The (somewhat tortuous) conceit is that one Anastasia Maximova has both unearthed these stories AND translated them into Catalan - in which, reassuringly, she has 'reached a highly respectable level'. Seres's alleged role is not entirely clear. I wonder why he didn't simply claim to have had a hand in the translation? I suppose he would then have had to adopt the byline 'translated by', a blatant untruth
This is not parody but an act of startling ventriloquy - though we do read of 'women who spend a fortune on the most expensive clothes', whereas Maia 'will never be as elegant as when she walks downstairs in her negligée and towel. The St Petersburg aristocracy, 100% pure bred' followed, a scant six pages later, by 'There are women who are more elegant in a bathrobe than others who parade their haute couture. Breeding will out, I suppose.' As will sloppy copy-editing
And the stories? Well, you don't think I'm about to give away the plot, do you? I'm hoping you'll be curious enough about this meta-USSR - which, as Seres points out, spells RUSS(ia) - to find out for yourself. It's hard to credit, truly, that Russian does not lurk behind the Catalan and the English - so fictitious you want to believe it. Only the titles (Spiralling Journeys, A Groundswell of Groans) uniformly fail to convince. The design, which MacLehose Press have imported wholesale from Quaderns Crema, is exemplary; I would like to have seen a picture editor credited
Can one be a 'sworn' legal translator? (I know one can be sworn enemies.) Ah well, I suppose Peter Bush, with almost fifty years' translating experience behind him, should know. Why the ugly neologism 'impacted on'(p81) for 'affected'? 'Running wild like headless chickens' should of course be 'running round like headless chickens' and 'like a cat that had found the cream' 'like the cat that got the cream'. Where Bush has 'Lempicka imitations' I'd probably have gone for 'paintings in the style of Lempicka' (yup, let's hear it for Tamara de Lempicka - crazy name, crazy lady). But mostly the translation's lovely. 'You wouldn't be yourself if you forgot certain things.' Mmm
There is considerable doubt of the authenticity of these claimed Russian stories. We are offered an anthology of 5 unknown Russian authors complete with apparent short biographies. However a Google search both in English and Russian fails to find any of them. The claim that Jossef Bergchenko's manual on ways to learn to read was `one of the most reprinted books in Russia' (p195) is simply untrue. Vera-Margarita Abanserev is not a Russian name and would be Abansereva. Moreover why have these stories apparently been translated from Russian into Catalan and then from Catalan into English rather than from Russian to English directly? Can the author or the publisher show us any of the Russian originals? Or has Francesc Serés invented and authored the whole lot, including the authors? I can find no contact details for Serés or Peter Bush to address these doubts, and the publisher's web site has no contact facility.
Serés and MacLehose Press need to clear this up. A spoof might be acceptable if transparent and explicit, but the possibility of misrepresentation is close to fraudulent for a reader spending £14.99 on the book.
That said, the stories themselves are excellent and capture the genre in a way which is reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn's `Apricot Jam and Other Stories' extremely well. They have their own inherent power.
`Ola Yevgueniyeva's' character vignettes range from the hum drum life of the air hostess with its low expectations, through the preserved privilege of select St Petersburg lovers, the boy persecuted on the school bus, and the exploitative sad old man playing chess in the park. `Vera-Margarita Abanserev(a?)' depicts desolate poverty in Red Square, an elderly couple's return home to irradiated Chernobyl, the quick short purging of Andrei Fiodorovitch Rauschs, and the banished academics reunion in Kiev. `Vitali Kroptkin' has the Soviet regime organise an unattended Elvis Presley concert in Red Square, direct the National Publishing Archive with grim determined control, shrug its shoulders at the loss of its astronaut to freeze in outer space, and equally abandon its sleepers in the USA. `Aleksandr Volkov' shows how human love can persevere, but also how astute characters can gain position and advantage in any regime. `He' powerfully parodies Soviet population and science experimentation in `The War against the Voromians', and its media control in `Theatre of Shadows'. In very few very succinct and powerful words, `Jossef Bergchenko' shows the desperation of serfdom in `The Resurrection of Souls' and the apparently inescapable, irredeemable, repetitive cycle of human evil in `The Twins' and offers the only apology for the Soviet regime, ie that feudalism was worse.
The stories triumph as a short catalogue of a grim social experiment, one whose repressions were extensive, but due to the surviving human spirit, never total. They remind us how awful it was, and should serve as ample warning never to return. But Francesc Serés should come clean on the question of their authenticity.
As the other reviews have speculated, this book is not in fact an anthology of undiscovered Russian/Soviet writers, but is a work of fiction. It is an exercise in creating a picture of a country that may or may not have existed. I personally think that it is well done, after a fashion, but it would only be convincing for someone who does not know modern Russia. It should be read as a work of modern Catalan literature and says more about inventing a place in that context than it does about Russia, upon which it provides little or no insight. It is more an exercise in style and narrative technique - and inventive in that. http://www.culturamas.es/blog/2011/03/08/cuentos-rusos-la-antologia-de-la-rusia-desconocida-de-francesc-seres/
It is fascinating how the "re-discovery" of foreign places by mass readership can lead to extraordinary assessments as to a work's authenticity or insight. A good example of this in English is the recent book "Snowdrops" by A.D.Miller about a property scam in modern Russia. It is an entertaining thriller, but not even literary fiction, in my view. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, only because the judges essentially knew nothing about modern Russia and found it fresh and insightful etc. Catalan reviewers of Seres' work appear to have come from the same angle. The reviewer Xavier Pla has also published with the same publisher and works on the promotion of Catalan literature and culture, so take that into account too.
So, as disappointed as you might be by being "hood-winked" by this book, Francesc Seres is a serious writer and should be given credit for that.