by Olga Zilberbourg
A friend’s ten-year-old son recently came up to me at a party to ask, “You’re from Russia, right?” Sensing caution in my assent, the boy hesitated before asking the next question, clearly trying to phrase it in a way that wouldn’t cause offense but would express his curiosity. He finally came up with, “It’s a very violent place, isn’t it?”
Whenever I’m asked to summarize the entire country of Russia at a party, I invariably recall a scene from a popular Soviet movie. When a character returns home from vacation onboard a cruise ship, his apartment building super pressures him to give a lecture to the residents entitled, “New York—the City of Contrasts.” The hero remarks that the cruise didn’t go to New York but to Istanbul and Marseille, and the administrator quickly goes along. “Fine. Call your lecture, ‘Istanbul—the City of Contrasts.’ What’s the difference?” To many Soviet citizens living behind the Iron Curtain there seemed, indeed, little difference between going to New York and Istanbul. Both were equally exotic. To many of my American acquaintances, contemporary Russia remains such an exoticized “other.” This massive country that covers more than one eighth of the Earth’s inhabitable land and is inhabited by approximately 160 ethnic groups speaking one hundred languages becomes reduced in conversation to a few set phrases.
* “The Factory” was originally published in Epiphany’s Winter 2014 issue, Risky Words.
In the factory—she had immediately understood—overwork drove people to want to have sex not with their wife or husband in their own house, where they returned exhausted and empty of desire, but there, at work, morning or afternoon. The men reached out their hands at every opportunity, they propositioned you if they merely passed by; and women, especially the ones who were not so young, laughed, rubbed against them with their big bosoms, fell in love, and love became a diversion that mitigated the labor and the boredom, giving an impression of real life.
You will learn craft and language, you will develop a love affair with poetry, you will find lifelong friends and mentors. You will experiment, test your boundaries, search for your voice. But you will find yourself surrounded by white peers, white teachers, people who can’t push you to ask yourself the harder questions about who you are as a writer. While this will bother you slightly, you won’t know how to articulate why, or even what you’re looking for, at least not in a way that doesn’t sound self-hating.
The anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life brings together complex and confident stories from an impressive list of authors.
Jamel Brinkley’s debut collection of short stories, A Lucky Man, arrived this May from Graywolf Press. We sat down together in Los Angeles and, in the course of our conversation, touched on the nefarious confluence of constrictive cultural norms and an oppressive state, coming-of-age as a perpetual process, and seeing past simplistic understandings of luck.
“Love your stole,” Lotte said to the handsome old woman at the party, “it’s grand and beautiful.” The woman thanked Lotte while her eyes flicked subliminally to the left: she did not recognize Lotte, nor could Lotte abort the identical tell on her own face. To save her children’s heads she could not have said if she had forgotten the woman’s name or had never laid eyes on her. Lotte walked with a cane and the woman in the stole offered to get her a drink.
R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is a slim, lyrical exploration of the complexities that get caught up in our desire to belong. Will and Phoebe are two college students trying to find their identities amid navigating economics, ideologies, and parental expectations. John Leal is a cult leader looking to gather more disciples. Kwon’s book delicately explores the kind of longing that draws one person into a cult, while another can walk away. There are no excuses given here, no clichéd attempts at forgiveness, just an empathetic examination of how violence and religious fanaticism can be so attractive to those looking for redemption.
When I was sixteen, I accidentally choked out Brian Herskowitz. One second he was trying to pull down on my sleeve and reduce the pressure on his neck, and the next he was very quiet, face down on the mat. I let go and sat back, not sure what to do.
The Leavers is a dual narrative about Polly and her son Deming. Leon is Polly’s boyfriend and Deming’s stepfather during the years they live together in New York City. He works in a slaughterhouse as a meat cutter. I wrote this scene in which Leon and his friend Quan go to a cockfight early on the writing process.
Years later, a man described why the gods of finance couldn’t wipe everyone’s debt and / start over. Everyone’s debt is another person’s asset. That autumn, the bank did not / call. The bank sent letters in nondescript envelopes. Invitations to pay a past-due balance.
Buy the Spring/Summer 2018 flip-cover double issue!
Pre-order the new issue by May 3rd and receive 15% off! Use code BREAKOUT at checkout.
The Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Epiphany is a flip-cover double issue. On one side, you’ll find five stories, six poems, and one essay selected for this issue by Epiphany’s editors. On the other side, you’ll find work from the winners of the first annual Breakout 8 Writers Prize, judged by Hannah Tinti, Alexander Chee, and Tracy O’Neill.
Read, flip, repeat, enjoy!
Contributors: Anzhelina Polonskaya / Alisson Wood* / Amber Wheeler Bacon* / Amy Lee Lillard* / Andrew Wachtel / Candice Wuehle / Colin Schmidt / Collin Frazier / Edith Lee* / Elisa Gonzalez / Gabriela Wiener / Jennifer Adock / Jiaming Tang* / Josephine Blair / Lore Segal / Lucy Greaves / Marc Castel de Lucas* / Nelly Rosario / Nicole Treska / Rasheeda Saka* / Terese Svoboda / Yesenia Montilla / Yuxi Lin*
(* indicates Breakout 8 Writers Prize winner)