‘Snow In May’ was a special book for me. Those stories of a far east Siberian town resonated with me on many levels. There is a common ground, some shared experience of all those who lived in the Soviet Bloc during communism. It’s quite amazing how the themes and tropes would repeat itself thousands of miles away from Warsaw, somewhere at the end of the world. And yet, the world behind the Iron Curtain was a unique experience, difficult to explain to outsiders but wordlessly recognizable to anyone who’s lived there.
It’s a world where the constant fight for basic survival still left room for producing world class pianists, chess players or ballet dancers. A person might worry about the shortages of food and their three hour daily piano practice all on the same day. It’s a world which formed individuals particularly unfit to survive in rampant capitalism. Melnik paints this world exceptionally and adds a special Siberian flavour to it.
The stories often mingle, letting some of the characters return and then they walk away from each other. Like any good story collection, it is striving for the human and universal and it succeeds. Ex-Soviet Bloc inhabitants might recognize themselves in details but anyone can relate to the bigger themes of the usual stuff of human experience, loss, love, pain and what have you.
I think Melnik is particularly successful with stories featuring children and teenagers. It might be that I just relate to them better because I was once was a child behind the Iron Curtain, or maybe Melnik writes them better because she was one herself before she left Siberia to move to Alaska. I can see she must have got tired of snow at last as she now lives in Texas. I must say I’m terribly jealous of her talent and success but will try not to hold that against her.
These scattered, cryptic comments probably don’t the book justice, so just take my word for it – it’s simply beautiful and I hope it will be noticed and appreciated. Melnik is definitely an author to watch.