PU-239 review

Ken Kalfus's book of short stories Discuss this article

pu41711_1
© ITP Images
Ken Kalfus

4/5
Scribner

Since Kalfus’s PU-239 story collection was first published in 1999, a lot has happened for the author. The book was made into a film for HBO (though why it never made it to the large screen we’ll never know); his 2006 novel A Disorder Peculiar to the Country was a National Book Award finalist; and in 2009 the author landed a Guggenheim Fellowship.

So it’s worth taking another look, just 12 years after its first release, at the six stories and novella included here. As the subtitle, ‘Other Russian Fantasies,’ suggests, these stories share a homeland. But ‘fantasies’ should not be taken in the traditional literary meaning; these stories are about the fading dreams of the Russian people. In the title story, after he’s doomed by an accident at his plant, nuclear technician Timofey attempts to benefit by hawking some stolen plutonium on the black market. Though pitched as a farce, the story actually has a lot to say about the failed expectations of the perestroika state and the attendant paranoia. Meanwhile, in ‘Birobidzhan,’ a young man named Israel encourages Jews to follow Stalin’s call to create a Jewish settlement in Eastern Russia.

What animates all of these stories isn’t Kalfus’s subtle and piquant humour, but empathy for the ambition that arises out of desperation. The laughs only add to the beauty of the stories. When you find yourself laughing knowingly with a character, that’s when you know an author has you.

By Jonathan Messinger
Time Out Bahrain,

Add your review/feedback

Subscribe to weekender newsletter

Prove you're not a robot:

Submit

Time Out Dubai

Ten things to do this weekend
Lionel, Kelis, Easter meals and a Desert Triathlon

Time Out
Abu Dhabi

Ten things to do this weekend
Your essential Abu Dhabi to-do list

Time Out
Doha

Best restaurants in Doha
Our pick of the best places to eat in Qatar

The Knowledge

Gulf Film Festival postponed
Apr 1

Plug pulled on 2014 edition of regional cinema celebration

Avicii cancels Bahrain F1 gig
Apr 1

EDM star pulls out of Grand Prix concert following health concerns

Avicii cancels Dubai gig
Mar 31

EDM star pulls out of Friday date at Atlantis following health concerns

Newsletters

Sign up now