Defiantly shoving back against Putin's antigay laws, Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon have compiled an anthology of queer Russian love stories, interviews, and testimonials called Gay Propaganda, intending the dual English-Russian print edition to be smuggled into the country "via underground activist networks" and a Russian eBook to be distributed free. The U.S. edition from upstart OR Books will ship in January, ahead of the Sochi games.
Gessen, a lesbian journalist and mom in Moscow, moved her family to Brooklyn last summer, explaining the necessity in this op ed and on this talk show. Her much respected bio The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin [Kindle] was a Slate and Chronicle book of the year. I also can't wait for her February 25 release, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot [Kindle].
Huff-Hannon is one of the founders of the global group All Out.
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Even ahead of Lyudmila Ulitskaya my favorite contemporary Russian writer is Tatyana Tolstaya whose White Walls is unsurpassed perfection of every stripe. Many of her stories are subtle heirs to Chekhov but her more vivid classic "The Poet and the Muse" hooks you with this opening:
"Nina was a marvelous woman, an ordinary woman, a doctor, and it goes without saying that she had her right to personal happiness like everyone else. Of this she was well aware. Nearing the age of thirty-five after a lengthy period of joyless trial and error -- not even worth talking about -- she knew what she needed: a wild, true love with tears, bouquets, midnight phone vigils, nocturnal taxi chases, fateful obstacles, betrayals, and forgiveness. She needed a -- you know -- an animal passion, dark windy nights with streetlamps aglow. She needed to perform a heroine's classical feat as if it were a mere trifle: to wear out seven pairs of iron boots, break seven iron staffs in two, devour seven loaves of iron bread, and receive in supreme reward not some golden rose or snow-white pedestal but a burned-out match or crumpled ball of a bus ticket -- a crumb from the banquet table where the radiant king, her heart's desire, had feasted. Well, of course, quite a few women need pretty much the same thing, so in this sense Nina was, as has already been said, a perfectly ordinary woman, a marvelous woman, a doctor."
If you're getting too much holiday sugar, try Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories [Kindle] or There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales [Kindle].