Sana Krasikov was born in Ukraine, and grew up in Georgia and the United States. Her debut short story collection, One More Year, was named a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award and received a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. Her second book, The Patriots, is out from Granta Books this month, and you can read the first chapter here. Sana shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
Lately I’ve been having a harder time telling apart generations. Yesterday, at a coffee shop, a mother in her fifties walked in with her son. He was gangly and wearing shorts to his knee. From the back his haircut looked like a lacrosse player’s. When they turned around I saw that this was in fact a father with his teenage daughter. The girl’s hair was gray. Or rather it had been dyed from blonde to blue and was now fading to a kind of silver. From the rear I assumed she was one of those spritely older women who did a lot of yoga. The mistake made me question myself. Nothing in their body language had given them away.
I had a friend in Moscow – an old friend of my mother’s – for whom this confusion of generations was highly disturbing. When she came to the US she could not tell people apart by age. She said, Americans think they’re teenagers their entire lives. They canter through life untroubled, like they’re jogging. They jog right into their graves.
The neighborhood where I lived in Moscow is called Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad. It was once a village (I’ve been told) where Peter the Great spent his childhood, though now it is mostly a thoroughfare. When I was there everyone over forty-five wore lumpy coats and mohair berets. The younger girls wore jeans low enough to show off their appendicitis scars. I am exaggerating, but only a little. I did not see this kind of generational divide in dress code again until I moved to Kenya. The older people all seemed to be dressed for church. ‘Executive’, they called it. The younger ones looked like they were taking their fashion tips from Vice. Hiking through the forest, I met a college boy who had the Urkel look down. Nothing about him struck me as ironic, so I wondered maybe the costume wasn’t either. I was told this divide was between people born before the end of the Moi dictatorship, and those born after.
A math and physics tutor came to my house every day for several weeks. I’d hired him to help my nanny’s daughter, Lavi – who was staying with us – pass her college entrance exams. She’d gone to a rural boarding school and had the wrong last name. There was rampant cheating on the test by kids from fancier schools, who had the exams leaked to them beforehand. Occasionally, I’d check in with the tutor on her progress. One day I found her and her mother laughing. The tutor had told her: your mother is very conscientious, and white too. I looked at Pamela, my nanny. But you’re right here all the time, I said – doesn’t he see you? Can’t he see that Lavi looks like you? Why didn’t you correct him? She laughed evasively. Let him see what he sees, she said.
My parents are atheists, more or less. They’ve spent their lives in the engineering fields. They believe in statistics. But my mother is a deeply superstitious person. The kind of superstition that requires you to call a child ugly when what you want to say is: he’s beautiful. It’s an old trick to confuse the devil. If you express delight with anything in your life, you have to spit over your shoulder three times. The world is teeming with demons who are always looking for ways to screw with your good fortune. I thought this kind of caution, this hedging against your own happiness was a thing only I lived with, a Russian Jewish thing. When I moved to Nairobi, I discovered an outdoor restaurant where I could take my son. It was Ethiopian. What an ugly baby, the owner said when he saw us. Then he spat over his shoulder. It felt like home.
Photograph © Engineering at Cambridge