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Short book, interesting hook and a chance to read something different? Sure, I will give it a shot. As you might have guessed, Thirst ties into alcohol:
Masterfully translated from the original Russian by award-winning translator Marian Schwartz, Thirst tells the story of 20-year-old Chechen War veteran Kostya. Maimed beyond recognition by a tank explosion, he spends weeks on end locked inside his apartment, his sole companions the vodka bottles spilling from the refrigerator. But soon Kostya’s comfortable if dysfunctional cocoon is torn open when he receives a visit from his army buddies who are mobilized to locate a missing comrade. Through this search for his missing friend, Kostya is able to find himself.
It is a spare and impressionistic story of a veteran trying to makes sense of his life after having his face and body disfigured in the war in Chechnya. Hunkered down in his apartment with so much vodka it wont fit in his small refrigerator, Kostya occasional rehabs apartments for the Euro-rich – working alone of course. His interaction is limited to his neighbor calling on him to scare her son into going to bed.
When his buddies call on him to assist in their search for another fellow vet, he ends up meeting up with his estranged father and his young family. These interactions shake him out of his depression and allow him to see the wider world rather than just his internal struggles.We learn of Kostya’s childhood and background through flashbacks which reveal that his father humiliated him and his mother by flirting with young women before leaving for good. His early interest in, and apparent talent with, art is fueled by an alcoholic school director who soon disappears taking the drive to draw with him. Riding around in an SUV looking for their friend, watching the fallout from his friend’s business deal gone bad, and interacting with his father’s family allows him to deal with these memories and come to terms with his emotions. And of course, he has to make peace with his injury and its impact on his life. Being with people and drawing them seems to give him space to heal.
This was a quick read (my paperback is 112 pages) and it held my attention for the most part. The cultural aspect of the new Russia and veterans of the Chechen war made it interesting to me. But the writing was uneven and the story as a whole lacked a structure. At times it felt like you were beginning to get a sense of the backstory of Kostya and how he ended up in that armored vehicle but in the end it is just a glimpse and doesn’t quite hang together. And the drive around and look for their missing friend seems like an almost artificial plot device. Put together it feels unfinished.
My reaction: hmm, interesting, but didn’t really grab me.
- A Q&A with Andrei Gelasimov, Author of “Thirst” (omnivoracious.com)