ABOUT 'TWELVE STORIES OF RUSSIA: A NOVEL, I GUESS'
Twelve Stories of Russia has alternately been described by reviewers and bloggers as a novel, a collection of short stories, a fictional memoir,"autobiographical stories", and, simply, a "book of fiction." According to reviewers, the work's protagonist is named James, is unnamed, or assumes the surname of the author - though even that is a subject of some confusion, as there is conflicting information about the identity of the book's author himself; in various sources he is referred to as A.J. Perry, Anthony Perry, and Tony Perry, but also A. J. Scott, Alexander Perry, and I. Aleksandrov. Several Russian bloggers have suggested that the author is not actually American, but Russian - or at least a Russian emigrant posing as an American. One reader expresses surprise that "even the internet doesn't seem to know anything" about the author. According to various sources, the author has lived (or lived) in Russia for 6, 7, 8 or 10 years. He currently resides either in Moscow or Hawai'i.
So who is the book written for? Various sources suggest that the book's intended audience might either be Russian readers who know English or American readers who know Russia. Or both. Or neither. Russian-American critic Alexander Genis suggests that the book "deserves to find an audience on both sides of the language barrier", while another reader suggests that the book is written to be inaccessible to both Russians and Americans - and that it is written in this way willfully and intentionally. A reader in a translation forum notes that the author has claimed that the book is untranslatable, although a French translation (Douze histoires cul sec: Un roman, je presume) was issued by Editions Intervalles in 2006. Meanwhile, the publisher of this French version, in an interview, notes the irony of a book that was rejected categorically by American publishers only to be published abroad by a foreign publisher instead. The book's Russian publisher, who primarily promotes Russian authors in translation, has described this work as a Russian novel in English. And, adding to the bedlam, a Russian reader recently called Twelve Stories - a book written in English and with an American protagonist - the best Russian book he has read in the last 20 years.
And what to make of the book's attitude toward Russia? One Russian reviewer cites the author's "quiet affection" for Russia, while another, after suggesting the author might actually be Russian, states that the author clearly "hates and despises our country and people." English speakers can be seen to agree with both sentiments, alternately calling the book "affectionate toward Moscow and its denizens" and its author (!) "a directionless dud...[with] no ability to care about anything or anyone." One Russian reviewer simply calls it "a kind, tragic, and intelligent book of a person trying to understand the people surrounding him."
The effect is disorienting. And yet the text itself is unequivocal: the words are all there, in the very same order, all the way from A to ß.