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Brief Interviews w/ Русский Men: Dmitry Danilov
On September 1st we’ll be celebrating the release of our new anthology Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia. In the meantime, Jeff Parker (who co-edited the book with Mikhail Iossel) will be posting brief interviews with some of the contributors. The first conversation is with Dmitry Danilov, author of Black and Green and House Ten, and wearer of the finest beard I’ve seen since Jeff Parker was last in town.
Jeff Parker: Your story “More Elderly Person” published in the Rasskazy anthology is told almost exclusively in the passive voice. Your characters hardly act, rather the world seems to always act on them. What was your thinking in executing it this way?
Dmitry Danilov: I would say for me as a writer I am interested not in a person but in the non-animate circumstances and objects that surround the person. Historically it’s developed such that literature is full of human deeds. In literature a human always acts, goes through emotional states, thinks, speaks. The entirety of literature is written about the acts of people. And when I write I am interested in shifting the focus from the person onto what surrounds him, to some things and circumstances that we usually don’t pay attention to. Because of that my characters come out very passive. They practically blend with the world. For example, there is a character and there is a house or there is a station and the person doesn’t stand out on his own in the background of the house or the station. I’m interested in practicing this approach. My characters indeed are passive, frozen, bloodless, inhibited.
JP: The reader is never aware of the relationship between the two protagonists in this story. One gets that they work together and that probably they are related, but why did you choose to leave the exact nature of who they are to one another vague?
DD: I also don’t know what their relationship is. I don’t come up with anything but what is in the text. There is just the text. And I don’t know who they are, maybe they are son and father, but I don’t know myself. As a matter of fact it’s not important. It’s just people who are connected with something between themselves and nobody knows what that connection is. Maybe they are relatives, most probably they are relatives.
JP: Because they live together, we understand, in the end?
DD: Do you remember in the beginning they seem to have some business because the older person asked the younger person about the passport and documents. Maybe they are solving some apartment matters with these documents, maybe something else.
JP: If port wine was the drink of the underground Samizdat generation, what is the preferred drink of the young generation of writers?
DD: I think vodka, simply vodka. Vodka and beer. When my friends and I buy vodka we prefer Zelyonaya Marka?
JP: Ah, the “fresh vodka.” [Interviewer’s note: Zelyonaya Marka, which translates into English as Green Stamp, is marketed under the slogan, “Fresh Vodka.”
DD: Yes, the freshest!
JP: You’ve done quite a bit of travel writing in the past few years all around the country. Where is the most interesting place you’ve been in Russia?
DD: It’s a good question. I will name three places. First, the most beautiful. I love the city Murmansk, in the far north. It’s fantastically beautiful. I was there many times. And when I am walking around the city, I am in ecstasy. Because of the Gulf Stream, the Behrends Sea Bay never freezes. There are boulders, mountain streams, houses built into the rocks, and in summer the sun never sets. Not like in St. Petersburg, but the sun is in the sky 24 hours.
JP: The real white nights.
DD: Yes, its incomparable with anything. And a person who comes to Russia should visit Murmansk. The second would be Norilsk. Also in the north, very far from Murmansk. I in general like the northern part of Russia, and in that city there is a trust called Norilsk Nikel, which mines nickel. The city was built in the mid 20th Century, very Stalinesque. It’s a stylish city and it consists almost entirely of Stalin-period architecture. There is a lot of black foliage. The ecology there is very scary because its smells of scary things. There is always smoke in the air. And the third is the scariest one of all, the city of Prokopyevsk. It’s a city in Siberia in Kuzbass, and they mine coal there. It’s a mining city. A city of miners. And they have a very scary social economic system because the majority of the city works in mines. There is practically no other job in that city. It’s a very difficult job to be underground for six hours straight and to be for six hours straight in coal dust with a hammer. It’s hell. And they are working for kopecks. The usual salary per month would be about 8,000 rubles. There is absolutely no cultural life there and a substantial criminal element. It’s dangerous even during the day to walk down the street. The only thee things considered entertainment in that place are drinking, heroine, and violence. And half of the city is just barracks. Imagine that kind of home: a long wooden house you enter down a long hallway on both sides of which are doors. One shared toilet, a shared kitchen–monstrous conditions, and half of the city lives in conditions like that. And if you compare other cities in Russia, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg–and I’m not talking about Moscow–to Prokopyevsk, you will see a huge abyss between them. Russia is like a country of different islands where people live in wealth and where people live in poverty. The wealth is not spread evenly. I traveled so much and I saw so many things and still I was struck by what I saw in Prokopyevsk. It’s a strange and depressing place. I was in shock. And if a person from Holland or Switzerland finds himself there, it will be a shock for him as well.
–Interview translated from the Russian by Julia Mikhailova