Cover image for The light and the dark
The light and the dark
Shishkin, Mikhail.
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Uniform Title:
Pis Ļmovnik. English
Publication Information:
New York : Quercus, 2014.
Physical Description:
312 pages ; 21 cm
Picture two people, young and in love. Picture them being separated from one another. Picture them keeping their love alive through letters. But now imagine they've not just been separated geographically, but also historically. Imagine that their love and letters now defy time and place, life and death.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

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The only author to win all three major Russian literary prizes (including the Russian Booker Prize), Mikhail Shishkin is one of the most acclaimed contemporary Russian literary figures. The Guardian said of Shishkin's writing: "richly textured and innovative. . . arguably Russia's greatest living novelist."

The Wall Street Journal raved that "Shishkin has created a bewitching potion of reality and fantasy, of history and fable, and of lonely need and joyful consolation. An exquisite novel... His sovereignty is over the invisible and the timeless. Mr. Shishkin traces this sad story with great beauty and finesse."

In The Light and the Dark Shishkin has created an evocative love story of two young lovers, Vladimir, a solider flighting the Boxer Rebellion, and Alexandra. Known fondly to each other as Vovka and Sashka, the two young lovers sustain their love by writing passionate letters to each other.

But as their correspondence continues, it becomes clear that the couple's separation is chronological as well as geographical--that their extraordinary romance is actually created out of, as well as kept alive by, their yearning epistolary exchange, which defies not only space but time. With this contrapuntal literary testament to the delirious, transcendent power of love, Mikhail Shishkin--the most celebrated Russian author of his generation--has created a masterpiece of modern fiction.

From the Hardcover edition.

Author Notes

AUTHOR Mikhail Shishkin was born in Moscow in 1961. Today, he is one of the most acclaimed Russian writers and the only author to have won all three major Russian literary prizes. Shishkin shares his time between Moscow, Berlin, and Switzerland.

Andrew Bromfield has translated into English many notable Russian authors, including Boris Akunin, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov, and many more. He is a founding editor of Glas, a Russian literary journal.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

After being separated by war, a pair of lovers dream about their brief time together in Shishkin's striking but sometimes confusing novel. Vladimir and Alexandra, known to each other respectively as Vovka and Sashenka, fell in love during a summer spent together in the countryside as teenagers. Now they write to each other recounting their days and reminiscing about the past. Both work as medics: Sashenka at home, monitoring a troubled couple, and Vovka in the army, on a campaign to China to help quell the Boxer Rebellion. He attempts to remain human in the face of war, often looking back to the town where he and Sashenka met or the books they used to share. Vovka and Sashenka narrate their histories apart as vivid snippets of memories, even as Shishkin reveals that, somehow, the two lovers live in different eras, with Sashenka inhabiting a time closer to our own than to Vovka's. Despite this disorienting foray into mysticism, their tales cohere into a portrait of Russians growing up too soon, enlisted in causes not their own, exemplified by Sashenka's belief in a second, disobedient self who lives out the dreams she can't. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



Probably, in order to become real, you have to exist, not in your own awareness, which is so uncertain and subject to the influence of sleep, for instance, when even you don't know if you're alive or not, but in the awareness of another person. And not just any person, but one for whom it is important to know that you exist. You know that I exist. And here, where everything is topsyturvy, that makes me real. When I was still a child I avoided death by a miracle--I got up at night to go to the toilet and the book shelves collapsed onto the bed. But I only started thinking seriously about my own death for the first time at school in a zoology lesson. We had an old teacher, an invalid, and he warned us to put a tablet from his pocket in his mouth if he ever fell unconscious. We put the tablet in, but it didn't help. He always used to wipe his glasses with his tie. At first he taught us botany and I took such a liking to him that I was always collecting herbariums, but later I decided to become an ornithologist, like him. It was very funny the way he used to lament the disappearance of various plants and birds. He stands there at the blackboard and shouts at us, as if we're to blame for something. "Where's the shady crocus? Where's the weak sedge? Where's the caldesia? And the summer snowflake? And Dubyansky's cornflower? Well, say something, will you? And the birds? Where are the birds? Where's Steller's sea eagle? Where's the bearded vulture-eagle? Where's the glossy ibis? I'm asking you! And the crested ibis! And the marbled teal! And the shikra! Where's the shikra?" And when he asked this, he himself looked like some sort of bird with ruffled feathers. All the teachers had nicknames, and he was called Shikra. Excerpted from The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.