Irina Bogatyreva

Irina Bogatyreva

OFF THE BEATEN TRACKS

 
(New Spring – an excerpt)

Hi, Julia, skinhead girl with a twisted smile, given to mild swearing. You saunter out, look your public over with that sneer of yours, hands in your pockets, clenched in tight fists. There’s just you and an audience, Julia, and who’s to say they are all on your side? You smirk, put on that husky voice, close your eyes in the spotlight, strike that guitar and sing about getting drunk on Saturday nights.

“And h-ooow I luvvit!”

After the gig you turn up your nose and tell us about sweaty guys who smell of overpriced vodka and cheap aftershave trying to pick you up, inviting you to the bar, swearing they only come to this dive to hear you and otherwise they drink exclusively at Blizzard.

“It’s your image,” Producer says. “Cut out the cussing and the songs about booze and you’ll find a different crowd around you.” You take no notice of what he has to say. You might if he were a proper producer, but what has he done for you? Nothing. He comes up with projects for albums and tours but you’re still doing the rounds in bars and nightclubs, like everyone else from the old Moscow underground scene. Julia, girl of great talent, now starring in the beer bars of Moscow. Where the hell did Sasha find her?

“Where did you find her, Sasha?” I ask, but I’m not ready to listen to his long rambling explanation about some festival and running into her in a snowstorm. Like Pushkin’s Silvio, Julia appeared out of a snowstorm but ended up in our commune.

No, Julia, you are a Moscow girl, not destined to live here with us on Yakimanka, although you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to rehearse. The walls are thick, you’ve got Roma here on bass guitar, Sasha to play any pipe or flute you can think of, and Lenka for backing. You’ve got a group! We admire your talent, and our perpetually pie-eyed Tolya crawls under the piano and holds his breath whenever you come into the room.

Those rehearsals were the highpoint of a fever which rampaged through our commune. We were like charged particles, attracted to each other, colliding, repelled, in a constant state of flux. That cruel fever blew our minds and we lived in the moment not knowing what we were doing.

But already we had a presentiment that soon it would all be over. You and I, Sasha, are on the road and have no alternative path. No traffic either, because what sort of a road is this? It’s a narrow track to a village where some people are supposed to be expecting us. How many kilometres is it to the village, Sasha? Oh, what the hell! We should make it by dawn.

Our house is full of people, all playing games with each other. They might not agree, but looking down on them from my gallery I know best. My home is full of kids, all playing at love.

Lenka started it, blonde-haired, blonde-browed, green-eyed Lenka as brazen as the devil. She introduced the bacillus of March madness to Yakimanka. Old Artemiy, our communal scarecrow stuck permanently beside the kitchen radiator, said it all the moment she arrived.

“You’ve got the devil in you, girl,” he told her. “Cool,” Lenka replied.

There are things over which the mind is powerless. It is powerless, for instance, to figure out what caused two beings as dissimilar as Lenka and me, Titch, to collide. Collide we nevertheless did, in the metro where she was handing out leaflets and I was rushing along one of my courier routes, my endless routes which, starting from a particular place, are guaranteed to take you back there, again and again. So it was. Lenka and I collided again and again, a dozen times, until finally laughter spilled out of our eyes and we were bound to be friends.

“This is one crackpot city we live in,” I said, sipping fruit juice through a straw. It was our lunch break. “Right,” Lenka nodded. “And we’re doing the most crackpot jobs it could think up.” “Right,” Lenka nodded, eating chocolate with a beer chaser. She is so hooked on sweets she won’t eat anything else so as not to put on weight.

Lenka had come to Moscow, was living with an aunt, studying somewhere while doing a job, the same as me. Her aunt kept coming down on Lenka, not letting her flower. “Everybody has the right to live how they please,” Lenka protested, “But this despot has got it into her head she has to mother me. That’s not what brought me to Moscow!”

Her appearance on Yakimanka was pre-ordained. Even though we were the same age, no one ever thought to call her what they called me. “This chick means business,” Tolya said admiringly. “Look and learn, Titch!”

Yakimanka, our rented communal paradise, adopted her and here she found the nurturing environment, the saturated solution of cynicism, two fingers to the world, the permissiveness her youthful schizophrenia needed to grow and flourish. She told everyone she was schizophrenic, found a book on forensic psychiatry and compared her symptoms. “Manic-depressive syndrome triggered by alcoholism,” she proudly diagnosed her condition. But you, commune, our shared home, are never shocked and only laugh. So many people here talk like that. There’s no knowing when they’re serious and when they are joking.

It was only old Artemiy who saw her demon straight away. Later I saw it too, one night, looking down from my gallery. I love watching people while they are asleep. You immediately see something important. Lenka looked scared in her sleep and there was a restive little brownish-grey creature beside her, like a kitten. In the darkness I couldn’t see what it was. I raised myself on my elbows, the creature pricked up its ears, tensed, jumped back into Lenka’s head and was gone.

Here Sasha and I are on our way, on the road, walking along a strip of asphalt through the woods. Around us it is May, the first green leaves, the first butterflies. After the winter we crawl out of Moscow into the big wide world as blind as moles, crusted with fungus and mildew. We can’t think straight, we blink in the light, dizzy in the fresh air. When you see that first butterfly, friend, you know you’ve survived another winter. “Hey, Sasha, have you brought anything to eat?” “They’ll have food.” “I’ve got bread, and water.” “Great. We’re sorted then. They should have something.”

We have a tent and a couple of blankets. “Did you arrange where we’re going to meet up?” “Nah. Reckon we’ll find them?” I nod. Something in me clicks, and I try to see everything, looking down from above – us, the lake, the guys we are looking for. “I’ll be right back. You get thumbing,” Sasha says, dropping his rucksack and jogging over to the ditch. I put mine beside his and look into the empty distance. “Sure,” I say. “Someone’s bound to stop for me now, a chick with two bags.”

“Eh? What chick with two bags?” Sasha asks from the bushes. “Nothing. I’m just talking about myself. Hey, hurry up, a lift!” He jumps out, buttoning himself, and we raise our thumbs. A saloon car with rounded contours, foreign, like a shiny golden pie, stops. Sasha leans down, speaking in his polite, breathy voice. Being polite always makes his voice go like that. The driver is a woman and she lets us in the back, along with our packs.

Lenka told us that back home, up in the north, she would drink nothing other than vodka. In Moscow she learned to drink beer. I saw a gap in her education and on her first day, to celebrate her moving in, we bought a bottle of champagne and a coconut, sawed it open with a rasp, quaffed it and by the time Roma and Tolya came back in the evening, were lying on the piano watching the shadows flitting over the ceiling. We thought all the shadows looked like elephants. “The girls have been partying,” Tolya said, turning on the lights and instantly banishing the elephants.

It wasn’t that night I saw the demon but a few days later. I decided not to get drunk with Lenka again, because if the elephants were enough to keep me happy, they weren’t enough for her and it took her just fifteen minutes to run to the shop with Tolya for more booze, so that in no time at all the whole kitchen knew who had descended on us.

“She’s just getting to know people,” Tolya said at the time.

“I grew up in this village,” the woman at the wheel tells us. She looks like the owner of the travel agency for which I run errands, not old but tired. She asks where we want to go and Sasha says something vague about the pier. “There are two,” she tells us. Shortly after, she brakes and sends him to buildings about a hundred metres from the road to ask about the people we’re supposed to be meeting. “This is the first pier,” she says.

Sasha runs over and comes back with the news that they aren’t there. We drive on through the village, which has high fenced cottages which look like holiday dachas. The woman lets us out and points to some buildings far away. “That’s the second one.” As she drives off. I appreciate just how warm it was in the car. “Hey, Sasha let’s pretend we’re detectives on someone’s trail.”

At the boat station dogs come running at the sound of our boots and the sight of our humped figures. They bark and wag their tails. “Yes, your friends were here but they’ve taken a boat. Where to? The islands.” “After them!” Sasha says. We count our money. We need 200 roubles to hire a boat and between us have just 230.

“How are we going to get back home, Sasha?”

“They’ve got money.”

Lenka was good at playing the guitar and singing the songs of rock legend Alexander Bashlachov with deep, not to say hysterical, emotion. She could talk about herself for hours on end without boring anyone, and could wear totally incongruous, oversized, weird clothes and make it look like this was the younger generation rebelling against society. Her greatest talent, however, was for falling in, and being in, love. “Look and learn, Titch,” Tolya told me. “Look and learn. You’re really stuck in that infantilism of yours.”

He was in raptures over Lenka and it was mutual. For the first few days she lived with him under his piano until, mutually fulfilled, they parted amicably and Lenka moved her talent on, causing turbulence in our commune.

Her dazzling, ditzy personality induced a state of intoxication or mild nervous tension in men. Even those who avoided looking directly were forever stealing glances at her. Their women became more attentive and loving, a little jumpy, and nearly all lost weight. Lenka taught everyone to play games and the commune became a fevered place.

“We tried it a hundred times but each was like the first,” Julia was to say later. I think she was talking about surgical spirit, although she could equally well have been speaking of Lenka. I realised she was contagious when, out of the blue, Sergey from the room next to mine sent a text message one morning declaring, in Latin script, “Ya teba lublu”, which reduced me to fits of hysterical laughter. I suddenly realised why I kept running into Sergey, why he was always coming into our room, sitting silently by the locker and gazing up at the gallery. He was a violinist at the Bolshoy Theatre, with the broad face of a peasant in a medieval tapestry and small, sharp teeth. His teeth put me off me. They struck me as unhealthy, and I could never think what to talk to him about. When I got his text I realised that his misspelled ‘lublu’ must have cost him a great deal. I laughed uproariously, until Roma Jah told me Sergey had asked him the day before if he could move to another room which had access to my gallery. I took a hammer and nailed the offending door shut.

Our commune’s hammer is inscribed “Use appropriately”. That really is very sound advice.

We take a boat and push off from the shore. The white cat which followed us from the office leaps on to the rock furthest from the shore and sits there staring after us. We are already far out and the land and the cottages merge with the darkness until only the white cat is still visible on its rock, alone, in the night.

The kind of heavy silence you get over water plugs our ears. It is the first time I have ever been in a boat but I don’t want to let on. I can’t swim. I look down into the water. It is black. Nightfall rapidly swallows up objects, warmth, and any desire to talk. It is a large lake with a lot of islands. It would be good to know which is the one we are looking for.

“There’s a campfire,” I say quietly. Nightfall has also swallowed up my ability to feel pleased. We row over to the island where a fire is such a flickering, venomous red you can’t believe it is natural. We don’t see any people but sounds travel readily over water and we hear music. It is not the kind of music the friends we are looking for could be listening to.

“I can hear an axe,” I say even more quietly, and we head for a different island and the distinct sound of someone confidently chopping logs. I picture Producer at it, raising his skinny arms above his head, the full weight of his body behind the axe, the body of a top student of Bauman Technical University, a clever boy in glasses.

“Julia!” Sasha calls into the darkness, facing the island, very loudly so as not be scared. “Julia!” “What’s Producer’s real name?” “No idea.” “Pro-du-cer!” I shout. Somebody is chopping wood in the forest. “Let’s go closer.” We do. We can already make out reeds by the shore, dry and yellow, that have survived the winter. “Pro-du-cer!”

It is so cold the water seems like black ice. The moon is bright and there are stars in the sky and the water. Our boat bobs on a surface between two abysses. We listen intently, for a long time, to the silence and the cold. “You know what, Sasha, I think this must be how people die.” “We’ll moor the boat, get a night’s sleep, and go look for them in the morning.”

The boat gets stuck in the reeds. Our legs disappear into cold water. I have no idea which direction we are going in through the bare stems surrounding us on all sides. We get to the shore and walk towards trees. They have branches, we will have a campfire and be warm. May the forces of light be with us.

The bacillus proved highly contagious and Sergey was not the last to succumb to it. The symptoms of infection were not always immediately evident, as I had realised after I brought Sasha to the commune.

He was a courier too, for a firm in the entry next to my travel agency. I had seen him many times before, but it was inevitable that we should meet up during the fever. He was drunk and reciting poetry. He was standing in the archway between our two entrance halls, stooped and as thin as a reed and swathed from head to toe in a lurid scarf. His eyes blazed with the fire of inspiration and he swayed to and fro as he recited early Mayakovsky. It turned out he was the courier with a poetry magazine. His audience was two friends with a bottle of brandy, an alley cat, and me. After his pals had made off with the remains of the brandy, the cat disappeared and I dragged Sasha back to Yakimanka.

“The Soviet generation of engineers has been replaced by a generation of couriers!” Tolya pronounced when he caught sight of Sasha. “You will shortly have a statue erected to you in our courtyard. We live in gone times, friend. What more could you ask?”

The commune turned out to be just what Sasha needed. He was from a distant Moscow suburb and only went home at weekends, staying with friends during the week. Relations with his friends got strained, and on what he got paid the commune was the right place for him. A more suitable berth was not immediately available, so Sasha was accommodated in the bathroom.

He was skinny and drained by alcoholism was Sasha. His knobbly knees were like shrivelled pumpkins and brought tears to my eyes. He had huge thick glasses which concealed the withered face of a man who has been dumped by three wives in succession. He had some innate logical deficit, which meant that listening to simple stories about his life entailed plunging into impenetrable thickets of personal and world history until you were totally disorientated. Nevertheless, I listened to them. We started off in our room when we got back from work and finished in the kitchen at dawn. Still there was no end in sight. We skipped college, and soon every aspect of reality began to fuse in my mind into total nonsense.

Sasha had a ridiculous, endearing, blind vulnerability, and an ability to get on with absolutely anyone. He was kind and undemanding, so I listened to him and hung out with him while he was living in the bathroom. If there was any suggestion of infatuation in my feverishness, then only because I had caught it from Lenka, like ‘flu. It was, nevertheless, a relief to see my temptation terminate one evening when Sasha and Lenka went off together to the nearest drink kiosk, returned after midnight and ended up together in Lenka’s bed.

That was the night I saw the imp on her pillow.

“Hey, Sasha, let’s play Robinson Crusoe and imagine no one will ever come to rescue us.” The campfire dries us and we warm up. We cut bread into thin squares, sprinkle them with salt and toast them on twigs. Our tap water is sweeter than wine. Sasha has an old canvas tent. All night we keep warm by hugging each other, then lying back to back. The blankets are too thin for a May night on a lake.

I dream of Producer. He is sitting in a boat fishing. A wonderful new guitar is floating on the water, its strings gleaming. “Is this all for me?” happy Julia sings on the beach, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. Julia is a child, a girl with pigtails. She doesn’t yet know she will sing songs and rescue the underground rock music of Moscow from the ruins. Will everyone there be her friends?

I wake up hungry. Warmed by the sun, the tent has become as muggy as a swamp. We crawl out. “Sasha, do you really not have any food?” “We’ll meet up with them,” Sasha says. We strike the tent and get going, munching bread and salt.

“Look, we can see the whole island. It can’t be that big. See, it’s round. We’ll find them. “Julia!” Sasha yells towards the woods, although no sound is coming from that direction. I try again to see everything at once and from above: there we are, there are the woods, there is lots and lots of water. I see nobody else.

“Sasha, let’s play at being eagles catching gophers in the open.” The woods are still wet and bare and they haven’t warmed up. Nobody lives here. We walk through them like orphans. “Julia!” Sasha bellows like a moose. “Pro-du-cer!” I yell. “Hey, Sasha, why aren’t we shouting for Lenka?” Sasha’s face darkens. Even when there are three of them, what Lenka wants Lenka gets, and Sasha knows it. He says nothing. We finish the bread. That’s it, man, now there’s nothing left to fuel your jealousy.

“I still have some sugar,” Sasha says. Sugar and water are good, only we’ve finished the water. We come to a swamp. “Sasha, do you remember where the lake was?” “No. Hang on a minute.” He leans over and fills our bottle. We drink the water and eat the sugar. “That’s better,” Sasha says and stretches contentedly. “First time I’ve drunk swamp water!” “It’s pure,” he says. “There was a toad in it. Toads never sit in dirty water.”

They both changed suddenly. One mania fused with another and Sasha entered a state where he could not let Lenka out of his sight. Lenka liked that. They stuck to each other like differently coloured pieces of modelling clay on Tolya’s recycled picture boards. They had a long and happy life together. Really long by Lenka’s standards and really happy by those of the commune. When love becomes dependency, however, the children forget to play by the rules. As luck would have it, this was the moment Julia showed up.

You were not destined to live with us, Julia, but your songs, drunken, crazy, toxic, were about all of us, the waifs and strays of Yakimanka. That is why we loved you, Julia. That is why you were one of us, and in our hearts each of us would have followed you to the ends of the earth. Every age needs an idol, and as we don’t have one right now, why not you, Julia, star of the Moscow beer bars? We were at one with you when you were singing about us and for us. You didn’t sell out, and anyway, who would have bought you?

Sasha brought her to us. She started singing rap in the autumn, and by midwinter her Producer had materialised. It looked like her creative career was coming good. The commune as a whole, however, not yet back on an even keel, succumbed to a new bout of fever. Roma Jah hesitated for a moment, frowned like an old wise Indian and said, “It’s all over!”

His pronouncement came after Sasha, not sparing himself, had run all over Moscow sticking up posters for Julia’s concert, while Lenka tattooed on her arm from wrist to elbow the word ‘Producer’ in runic script.

We are playing associations. Tolya is leading and I am answering. Everybody listens, punctuating a fraught silence with laughter.

“Piano,” says Tolya. “Lame dog.”

“Alarm clock.” “Peevish schoolkid.”

“Lenka.” “Little girl lost.” (I see her laughing and biting Sasha’s ear with delight.)

“Sasha.” “Boy reading with a torch under the bedclothes at night.” (I see Sasha wants to say something, but he is too slow.)
“Julia,” Tolya says, getting the bit between his teeth. “Girl looking forward to New Year presents.” (What a pity you aren’t here with us, Julia.)

“Titch, all your associations follow the same lines. That’s questionable.” “They aren’t associations, they’re what I see.”

“Okay then. What about Producer?”

“Producer, erm, er… He is…” For the first time I am having to think. It is a pity he isn’t here either for me to glance at him. “No, I can’t see him. For some reason I can’t see anything.”

Producer was pale, thin, and wore jeans with holes in them, socks with holes in them and shirts with buttons missing, but he knew the right people at the right clubs, and seemed even to know people in higher and classier places too. He said nothing, though. He waited. He was good at waiting, was Producer, bluffing but with a Joker in his pocket. Or had he?

In the meantime, he showered advice on Julia. They would come back together, Julia would sing the way she always did, and then Producer would say what ideally she should be doing. From my gallery I could see his eyes – blue-grey, intelligent – and I could understand Lenka. From my gallery I could see Julia’s lips – thin, with a twist of indifference and a little white lower tooth, and I could understand Sasha. From my gallery I could see absolutely everything, and it all got terribly mixed up.

Madness was building up in the commune again. It built up all winter and by spring had the power of a hibernating atom bomb. Lenka and Sasha made up and broke up, moved on to a brother-sister relationship, then fought and gave each other purple love bites. Julia and Producer continued their quiet, steady relationship and I watched them from my gallery. The light from a nearby bulb dimmed in my eyes because I couldn’t see both couples at once. My home is full of children who have forgotten they are children but all want games to play.

They started putting on concerts. Money came in. If they had had love everything would have been sorted long ago, but everything remained as it was and in late April Producer said, “Let’s go to the lake for the May Day holiday.”

He made it sound like a challenge to a duel. You go to the woods when you are strong and free and most urgently desire to be with the one you want. How they would get on in the woods not even old Artemiy could foretell. The timer clicked and the seconds started ticking away in the time-bomb. I saw their agitation and wanted only to immure myself in my gallery in order to survive the explosion.

We wander on for as long as our legs hold out. We come to a glade where the sun has warmed the moss, and lie down without a word and feel good.

“Sasha, what do you make of Julia?” “She’s cool.” “And Lenka?” “Little furry animal.”
“Producer?” “Don’t give a toss.”

“No, but what do you make of him?” “I haven’t looked.” “What about the two of them.” “God only knows what’s going on.” “Do you know when I saw her as she really, really is?” “Who?” “Julia. When she stayed overnight with us one time. I looked at everyone then to see what they were like asleep. Her face was so child-like and vulnerable. I wanted to stroke her hair. That’s what she’s like, Sasha.”

I quickly try once again to take in everything at once, looking down from above. I see us, the woods, the lake. But where are the people we are looking for? And who are we looking for anyway? They… for some reason I have a sense that we are too late. I wonder what for, but we are already dozing off in the heat. The sun is setting, warm, glowing. The birds are singing and Sasha begins to snore.

I dream about a dog with a ginger coat. Someone has killed it.

Would I ever have come down from my gallery? What was there for me to do down there if these kids were so keen to play and beat up and torment each other. But May arrived. It was cold. Roma Jah swathed himself in his long ginger scarf, knocked at the door of my gallery and said, “Hey Titch you really ought to go with them.” “Why don’t you go? I’m not one of their crowd.” “I’ve got ‘flu.” “So what?” “You go, Titch. Otherwise…”

We agreed to meet up at Savyolovsky train station and go to the lake, but the only people who met up were me and Sasha. We arrived at the spot we’d agreed and ran to the platform only to see the train waving its stumpy tail at us as it disappeared. Sasha looked after it like an abandoned dog. I could swear he was thinking Lenka had done it deliberately. “We know where they’re headed,” he said. “Let’s go after them.”

We wake up when it’s already dusk, pitch the tent, light a fire and warm ourselves at it. “Lenka asked me immediately whether I would allow her to love him,” Sasha tells me. “I said, go for it!” “Who?” “Producer, of course. I told her, go for it. The type he is, it makes no difference whether you love him or not.” Sasha takes out his pipe and lights up. “It’s good here,” he says. “What more could anyone need?” The fire is reduced to a pitiful heap of ash. We climb into the tent. Shelter.

“Sasha, why don’t we just sleep all day tomorrow and not go anywhere. “You’ll croak, Titch.” “Go on, Sasha. I know everything that’s going to happen tomorrow anyway. Want me to tell you?” “Go on, then.” “Tomorrow’s Victory Day. We’ll meet up with some people, and the very first man we meet will pour you a vodka to drink to the Victory of 1945. He won’t pour me one, only you. You’ll get drunk and we’ll hitch back to Moscow. On the way we’ll spend our thirty roubles on food.” “Fine by me. Let’s do it all the same.”

I sigh. We cling together for warmth. “Sasha, let’s pretend we are soldiers killed in the war, here in the swamps, and nobody will ever find us.” “You’re nuts, Titch. Go to sleep.” We hug each other tight and sleep all night, freezing cold.

In the morning we come upon a narrow gauge rail-track and wonder who extended it on to the island. We follow it and reach a village. Everything happens as I said it would. The first man we meet has a bottle and pours Sasha a vodka, but his empty stomach means he’s immediately unsteady on his feet. No, friend, with you in that state I’m not going to play any games.

We come to the store and I send Sasha in. I sit on my pack, shut my eyes, and see red spots jumping in the darkness of my eyelids. The fever will be purged from our commune by the spring, the cold, hunger and swamp water. I should have told Roma to ventilate the place thoroughly while we were away.

I open my eyes and out of the dancing sunlight two figures walking down the road materialise like a mirage. I blink and see it is Julia and Producer. Julia’s red setter is running ahead of them. I sit there smiling. They go into the store, and the dog runs over to me wagging its whole body.

Producer comes out, sees me, nods and sits down on Sasha’s pack. I smile but we don’t speak. He is very suntanned, Julia’s Producer. He is stripped to the waist and the colour of oatmeal cookies. He sits beside me and I try to get a look at him to see, smell, sense whether anything has changed during his two days and two nights with Julia. It turns out Lenka wasn’t with them, and that just strengthens my feeling that I have somehow missed the boat.

Well then, friend, where’s your child? The one we all carry within ourselves from childhood? Sasha comes out. He gives me a biscuit and eats one himself but he’s woozy. Julia has a half-smile on her lips, she’s lolling about with a man’s T-shirt over her bare breasts. She looks at Sasha with her invariable hint of mockery. She tells us where they were, where they waited, but we know very well what happened and how. You go to the woods when you want to be with the one you want to be with. Julia laughs. She knows now how much Sasha will put up with for her sake. Hunger, cold, vodka, brackish swamp water…

“What’s your name?” I ask Producer. “Ivan,” he says, and blinks twice.
 
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IRINA BOGATYREVA was born in 1982 in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. A 2005 graduate of the Literary Institute in Moscow, she published her first novel AutoSTOP (Off the Beaten Tracks) in 2008. The novel was a Debut Prize finalist as well as winning the Eureka, Ilya-prize, and the prize of Oktyabr magazine. Her second novel Comrade Anna was published in 2011 and was short-listed for the Belkin Prize. In 2012 she toured the US with other Debut Prize writers and prize director Olga Slavnikova.
 
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About the Translator:

 
ARCH TAIT has a PhD in Russian literature from Cambridge and began translating in earnest in 1986 after a meeting with Valentina Jacques, then editor of the magazine Soviet Literature. From 1993 he was the UK editor of the Glas New Russian Writing translation series, whose editor-in-chief was Valentina’s successor, Natasha Perova. To date he has translated 25 books, 35 short stories and 30 articles by most of the leading Russian writers of today. His most recent translations are Irina Prokhorova’s 1990: Russians Remember a Turning Point, and Dmitry Vachedin’s Snow Germans.
 
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Off the Beaten Tracks is one of three short novels also including works by Debut Prize writers Igor Savelyev and Tatiana Mazepina in a collection published by Glas New Russian Writing as Off the Beaten Tracks: Stories by Russian Hitchhikers.
 

Read more work by Irina Bogatyreva:

 
Stars Over Lake Teletskoye” in The Morning News

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