Klotsvog is a novel about being Jewish in the Soviet Union and the historical trauma of World War II—and it's a novel about the petty dramas and demons of one wonderfully vain woman. Maya Abramovna Klotsvog has had quite a life, and she wants you to know all about it.
Klotsvog is a devastating, bleakly comic novel about life in the Soviet Union. Published in Russian in 2009, it has been skillfully rendered by Lisa Hayden ... Hayden perfectly reproduces the awkward, traumatized clichés with the help of which Maya narrates her own life in one long, strange, chapter-less confessional ... Khemlin’s use of tiny incidents to convey the permanence and loneliness of trauma is part of the novel’s brilliance ... Language is also at the center of Khemlin’s heartbreaking exploration of Jewish identity in Klotsvog ... Maya’s struggles as a woman are horribly familiar: competing demands, internalized beauty standards, the mundane frustrations of cooking, ironing, tidying up ... In an apparently small-scale drama, Khemlin raises existential human questions. 'Is life worth living?' Maya asks herself halfway through the book. Khemlin’s trick is to cram these questions between formulaic understatements ... The fact that Maya’s unspoken agonies peek out from behind platitudes makes them almost funny as well as freshly painful. In giving voice to this complex, wounded character, Khemlin invites us to empathize even as we judge and to better understand our own common, terrified, irrational humanity.
Maya isn't an appealing character. She's far too vain and self-absorbed for that, but her voice draws the reader in, introducing us to a Jewish culture that is wounded, trying desperately to recover and maintain some dignity in a country that despises it ... Klotsvog isn't an easy story, but Maya is a brilliant character. Not just an unreliable narrator, she's an unreliable person, someone raised in hunger and fear who is desperate to find a comfortable place in the world. Khemlin has created an unforgettable character and opened a window onto a world more people should know about.
Margarita Khemlin’s masterful debut novel Klotsvog, which was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize in 2009 and is now brought to an English-speaking audience by Lisa C. Hayden, demonstrates just how unsuccessful love can be – particularly when it’s trapped in the antisemitic Soviet mechanism ... Maya’s soap-operatic life is delivered via a series of Vonnegut-like refrains...and with a Dostoevskean psychological precision. Khemlin also mixes Sovietisms with skaz – a style of breathless, conversational storytelling, exemplified by authors such as Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. The storytelling is sumptuous throughout, and Klotsvog is also memorable for its bold grasp on the legacy of anxiety. 'We didn’t have anybody’s examples to follow for love' Maya comments in the opening pages. Between the suffering of the past and the fear of the future, Khemlin shows how our relationship with love can be determined by our reckoning with ancestral pain.