Cover image for The red passport
The red passport
Shonk, Katherine.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [publisher not identified], 2003.
Physical Description:
209 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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A beguiling debut collection set in the "New Russia" about love, dislocation, and the struggle to get a foothold in a changing world The eight unpredictable, poignant, and often comic stories that make up Katherine Shonk's The Red Passport portray the tumult, hopes, and disappointments of Russians and visiting Americans alike in post-Communist Russia. Many of the Russians in these stories are strangers in their own country, learning to navigate a new landscape of Dunkin Donuts franchises that flourish where consumer culture had so recently been anathema; where the fall of the Soviet Union has not in fact brought about peace or prosperity; and where people still find a way to reach out and for love, despite often disastrous results. "My Mother's Garden" reads like a parable of broken promises--an old woman living near Chernobyl does not understand why she can't eat those robust, lovely, enormous onions, better than any she'd grown for decades. "Our American" is set in Moscow and tells the story of a thirteen year old boy who watches with fascination and dread as his older brother, a veteran of the Chechen war, pursues the naÏve American girl next door. "The Young People of Moscow" describes an extraordinary day in the life of an aging Russian couple selling Soviet poetry in an underground bazaar. In her elegantly crafted stories Shonk delves deeply into these people, finding both the nub of their disappointment and the truth of their good intentions. Describing a place that is at once exotic and disconcertingly familiar, The Red Passport is a moving and startling book that doles out amazement and delight in equal measure.

Author Notes

Katherine Shonk was born in Chicago and lives in Evanston, Illinois. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, StoryQuarterly, and The Georgia Review, and have been reprinted in Best American Short Stories

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The meeting of East and West in post-Soviet Russia is fast becoming a goldmine for such rich and provocative fiction as Fernanda Eberstadt's canny novel The Furies BKL Ag 03, the short stories collected in the compelling anthology Wild East BKL O 15 03, and now Shonk's debut collection. A fast-off-the-mark storyteller, Shonk vividly calls to life poor and anxious Muscovites and unhelpfully naive and intrusive, if well-intentioned, Americans. Her sympathetic characters are magnetic (how the reader cringes for the sweet young Russian American who tries to organize a support group for survivors of a terrorist attack), and her subject matter is fresh and urgent: the Chechen war, terrorist bombings, the tragic legacy of Chernobyl, the devaluing of art and scholarship. Although there is a touching artlessness to Shonk's tales, it endears rather than repels. These are, in fact, important stories, at once timeless and searingly of the moment, so that what they lack in polish, they more than make up for in soul. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this promising debut collection set primarily in post-Communist Russia, expatriates and natives alike endeavor to make their way in a new social and economic landscape, often sharing an intense desire for whatever the other possesses: money, freedom, love, family. For Shonk, who spent time in Russia in the late 1990s, Americans abroad can be innocents, interlopers or cultural explorers. In "Kitchen Friends," an American journalist in Moscow who witnesses a trolley bombing by Chechen rebels forms a support group for the survivors, with the private hope that she can confess secrets from her Russian ancestors' dark history. Shonk avidly engages issues of displacement and loss, freedom and constraint. In the haunting "My Mother's Garden," a woman is hard-pressed to convince her mother that the town she refuses to leave is toxic, contaminated by an explosion at a nearby nuclear reactor. "It never ceases to shame me, this fear I have of touching my mother, of carrying the poison in her skin and clothes to my daughter," she thinks. In "Our American," an out-of-work former soldier insinuates himself into an American woman's life in the hopes that she will buy a pair of glasses for his little brother. As in "Honey Month" and "The Conversion," Shonk is at her best examining the lives of Americans whom the natives revere as potential saviors at the same time they dismiss them as frivolous tourists who could never hope to understand life in the former Soviet republic. That tension lends these stories an impressive vitality. Agent, Amy Williams. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Shonk sets her debut collection in contemporary Russia, drawing on two kinds of conflict-internal (e.g., envy, loneliness, jealousy, old age, and human frailities) and external (e.g., serious, lingering problems due to contamination in the Chernobyl area, the influence of American visitors on the native people, and the decisions to grant, or reject, strongly desired visas for travel to the United States). Written with a keen eye and a sprinkling of Russian words to keep it authentic, these stories are charming and alarming at the same time. In "My Mother's Garden," included in the 2001 edition of The Best American Short Stories, an old woman living on the outskirts of Chernobyl longs to eat some wild onions. Shonk, a native of Illinois, spent several years in Russia in the late 1990s and uses her experience to strong effect here. Recommended for readers interested in contemporary Russian life.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

The Death of Olga Vasilievnap. 3
Our Americanp. 22
The Young People of Moscowp. 50
My Mother's Gardenp. 69
Kitchen Friendsp. 94
The Conversionp. 124
The Wooden Village of Kizhip. 147
Honey Monthp. 176
Acknowledgmentsp. 209