Advent: December 3

Moscow But Dreaming

Moscow But Dreaming
by Ekaterina Sedia

I keep breaking this rule of “a single story” because I keep getting lost in these single-author anthologies by stunning storytellers. Devouring stories is like coming across a mound of candy; whether it’s little Thin Mints or the most enchanting petit fours, it’s easy to keep piling through until the plate is clean. The storytelling payoff repeated again and again is addictive—moreso for certain writers than for others.

Ekaterina Sedia is one of those writers. Reading her stories is like drinking dreams of a particular potency: the sort of feeling you get daydreaming while drunk on melancholy sorrow. Thus the title of her short story collection, Moscow But Dreaming, is entirely fitting to her style. I fell in love with her voice; with her ability to wield metaphor with an effect like the intricate gears of clockwork in a pocket watch, as opposed to the falling thud of hammer on anvil, with her achievement of a dreamlike space to her stories that does not detract from pacing nor story.

In contrast to the previous day’s collection under review, Moscow But Dreaming is a mine of stories from her impressive bibliography, featuring 21 options with which to gently undermine your state of reality. Here are but a few of those gems (I’ve chosen to highlight the ones that are also available freely online):

“A Short Encyclopedia of the Lunar Seas”

The perfect opening story for the collection, which shows you the range of Sedia’s storytelling: a series of fantastical entries about mares on the moon, from the Sea of Rains (her magical realism side) to the Sea of Clouds (her pure fantastical side).

“Zombie Lenin”

What do dead Lenin, Erishkigal, and Eurydice have in common? Cthonic deities, dead women, and, of course, zombie Lenin.

“Citizen Komarova Finds Love”

A Russian fairy-tale story set in times of class revolution.

“Seas of the World”

This naturally has a near and dear place in my heart. I’ll let you read it. It’s wonderful.

“The Taste of Wheat”

In which a woman searches for her dead grandfather, while dreaming of the Buddha and his dogs.

My favorite is not available online: it’s “Ebb and Flow”, a Japanese fairy-tale about people of two different worlds (the human world, and the world of the sea kami) colliding. By no means is it the best story in the volume, however, and is outshone by nearly all of the rest. A collection with a bar that high is one worth getting.

It’s unfortunate that there are no prefaces or afterwords for the stories; it would have been interesting to see the background for “Citizen Komarova Finds Love”, or to read about her interest in the sea (which pops up as a motif in a fair number of her stories).

I have another story recommendation of hers to make that isn’t part of Moscow But Dreaming: “Herding Vegetable Sheep”, which also has a podcast version read by the wonderful Kate Baker.

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