The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight

Oshsner Russian Dreambook.jpg

I finished reading Gina Ochsner's latest book, The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight several weeks ago and find myself missing some of the characters, which says a lot about a novel. The story is set in post-Soviet Russia with a strong twist of magical realism. The book is almost a survival manual. Life as they know it is deteriorating rapidly, figuratively and literally, and what some of them do to keep their spirits alive is beautiful. In particular, I liked Tanya, a young woman who single-handedly made objects to fill the city's only art museum from the throwaways of everyday life and also was the museum's coat check girl.

When [Tanya] stood there among the faux icons she herself had lovingly crafted out of gutter flashing and chewing gum, she did not see the silver halos she'd fashioned from the wrapper of the many chocolate bars she'd eaten. Nor did she see the used toothpicks that radiated in all directions from baby Jesus' head which spoke of his sharp radiance. When she stood there she saw the icons as they were intended to be perceived–masterful copies of the copies shown in her art books and duplicated on her assortment of museum postcards. And looking at these icons and paintings with this hope-infused vision, they were not cheap, amateurish attempts, but the real thing. Like the subjects they depicted, these items were made of humble stock but in all ways suggested the divine.

In one of the last scenes in the book, the three main female characters, including Tanya, are sitting on a bench. They have each given themselves to keep things going, not in some volunteer-like fashion to save the world, but as a function of being who they were. Picturing them together on that bench it struck me that there sat truth, beauty, and goodness. Flawed human versions, of course, but personified transcendentals nonetheless.