In a crumbling apartment building in post-Soviet Russia, there's a ghost who won't keep quiet. Mircha fell from the roof and was never properly buried, so he sticks around to heckle the living: his wife, Azade; Olga, a disillusioned translator/censor for a military newspaper; Yuri, an army veteran who always wears an aviator's helmet; and Tanya. Tanya carries a notebook wherever she goes, recording her observations and her dreams of finding love and escaping her job at the All-Russia All-Cosmopolitan Museum, a place which holds a fantastic and terrible collection of art knockoffs created using the tools at hand, from foam to chewing gum, Popsicle sticks to tomato juice. When the museum's director hears of a mysterious American group seeking to fund art in Russia, it looks like she might get her chance at a better life, if she can only convince them of the collections worth. Enlisting the help of Azade, Olga and even Mircha, Tanya scrambles to save her dreams and her neighbors, and along the way discovers that love may have been waiting in her own courtyard all along.
And so in Ochsner's fable-like, magical debut novel, we see the transcendence of imagination. As Colum McCann has said: "[Ochsner] manages... to capture our sundry human moments and make raw and unforgettable music of them."
Published in the UK in 2009 The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight was longlisted for the British Orange Prize for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Ken Kesey fiction award.
"Though Ochsner struggles in places to expand and sustain the energy of her short stories, the novel benefits from its relative plotlessness by granting a rare glimpse of buoyant inner worlds that flourish through the frost." - Publishers Weekly
" She paints an impressionistic picture of the complex machine of life. For all fiction readers, especially those who enjoy magical realism." - Library Journal
"Gina Oschner's novel is enchanting, at once playful and poignant. With her marvelously light touch, she takes the rubble of post-Soviet Russia and turns it into gold." - Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles and Madeleine Is Sleeping
"The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight is a hilariously absurdist and deeply resonant debut novel by a short story master. Gina Ochsner transforms the lives of ordinary post-Soviet Russians into something magical and wise and glintingly beautiful." - Irina Reyn, author of What Happened to Anna K.
Heartbreaking and funny and deeply moving, this beautifully wrought novel matters from first word to last. This is an absolutely original book, and Gina Ochsner is like no other writer I know at work today. She is at once a fabulist and a realist, a romantic and a cold-eyed recorder of the ways we rationalize our most intimate mistakes. Her love of both the written word and of humanity at large shine through on every page, and I couldn't stop reading this tale of the living and the dead, the loved and the unloved, the powerful and the oppressed. This is magical stuff - The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight is whimsical, ghost-riven, satirical and darkly, richly, wonderfully redeeming." Bret Lott, author of Jewel and A Song I Knew by Heart
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Rated of 5
Kathy S. (DeForest, WI)
The story was extremely interesting, but my favorite thing with this book was what I learned about the Russian culture. We are very blessed here in the U.S. and we often forget that.
Rated of 5
Lori J. (Nutter Fort, WV)
Dreambook was entertaining to read. I am not very familiar with Russian culture, but a relative recently spent 3 months in Moscow, and his views of the Russian population's collective psyche were mirrored in the book. Recommended reading.
Rated of 5
Julie B. (Menomonee Falls, WI)
Bleak and Smelly
I was so intrigued by the title of this book and was looking forward to reading about Russia. I did not expect the book to be as bleak as it was. The dreams are not realized and the colors that permeate the book are gray and brown.
The only character I found interesting was Tanya, and even then, I was frustrated with her.
The author has a beautiful grasp of language and her descriptions really brought me into the novel...perhaps too much though. Her constant references to feces and other horrible smells kind of turned my stomach.
Bottom line: I would not pass this book along or recommend it to anyone.
Rated of 5
Mark O. (Wenatchee, WA)
Surviving with grace
Like the labels on wine bottles, this book has flavors of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate with a hint of Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The setting is a Russia so squalid that people are almost feral. The inhabitants of the story live in a derelict apartment building. Daily life has its price, especially for use of the latrine in the courtyard of the apartment building. One of the characters is Undead, not as a sexy vampire but simply harder to get rid of than athlete’s foot. Reading this book took a long time, not because it is literary fiction (and so more about character than plot) but because I stopped to take lots of notes - quotes to add to my commonplace book and examples of gorgeously-constructed writing. One of the characters keeps a notebook always at hand (we get an occasional look at the contents), a reminder to all of us readers and writers to Pay Attention. The apartment building is a microcosm of the Russian melting pot but the older inhabitants haven’t melted and so have the solace and burden of ancestral identities. Perhaps the best gifts of this book are the reminders that dreams are the most substantial things we can have and that color can be found in the drabbest places, if looked for.
Rated of 5
Lisa E. (Cincinnati, OH)
Engaging but Unsatisfying
Gina Ochsner has created several engaging characters in this book set in post-Soviet Russia--Olga, the translator still pining for her lost husband; Tanya, the young woman who writes beautifully about color but is unbearably lonely; and Azade, whose husband died but won't leave her alone. We come to care about all of the characters, but the ending--pat but yet unbelievable at the same time--is deeply unsatisfying.
Rated of 5
Kate S. (arvada, CO)
Quite a Read. I Loved it!
The title alone was appealing to me; the book did not disappoint. The author is certainly gifted, and has a wonderful way with words. I enjoyed how each chapter was written from a different characters point of view. Many readers have stated how it was depressing or hard to read. To me, it followed real life. A life many of us cannot imagine. People are unpredictable, they react differently under stress. I think the character Tanya stated it perfectly. "Whether we are savage or civilized, I can"t say. But we are authentic, this much I know." I think it would make a wonderful book for book clubs. Good discussion, good characters,a Russia many of us know little about.
Gina Ochsner's first collection, The Necessary Grace to Fall, won the Flannery OConnor Award for Short Fiction and was published by the University of Georgia Press. It also won the Oregon Book Award for Short Fiction and the PNBA award for short stories and was an Austin Chronicle Top Ten Pick. Her second collection, People I Want to Be, was published in 2005. This is her first novel. She lives in western Oregon with her husband and four children.
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