Tatyana Tolstaya's "Aspic," translated from the Russian by Anya Migdal, was originally published in the January 25, 2016 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

January 25, 2016Two stories by Russian women writers with women translators in a row? Great job, New Yorker! I’ve never read Tolstaya, though her The Slynx has often called to me from the rows of NYRB Classics. I’m anxious to dig into this one, and it shouldn’t be too hard as it’s a very short piece!

I hope you’ll share your thoughts below! I look forward to the discussion.

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By |2016-01-18T01:49:54-04:00January 18th, 2016|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Tatyana Tolstaya|Tags: |7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Sean H January 23, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Very short and not particularly storyish, like the recent Anne Carson piece, and this makes back to back Russians in the Fiction section of The New Yorker as well. This one, with its odd start in first-person with the “I” then disappearing for the duration as we move into second-person makes me wonder if this is a translation issue. If not, what is the purpose of the shift? Overall this just felt really thin, though it’s got a nice ending which is closer to memorable and almost redeems the piece as a whole. I like flash fiction (or short-shorts or micro-fiction) and this isn’t quite that brief, but I’m curious what The New Yorker saw in it that jumped out in a “we must publish this” sort of way. It’s a nice still life, not particularly large in scope or innovative in its use of language and imagery, nor is it underwritten with politics as the Petrushevskaya is. I’m not familiar with The Slynx (good title, though) or any of this author’s longer works but a New Yorker fiction piece should be a knockout; this felt at best like a well-executed jab.

  2. Greg January 24, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Thanks Sean for taking the time to share your thoughts on yet another mediocre piece of fiction. I agree with you that the ending is good….the sense of unbearable burden is palpable.

    And Trevor, did I sense a hint of sarcasm in your intro? Hee-hee…!

  3. Trevor Berrett January 25, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the insights, Sean and Greg. Sean, I’ve been relatively quiet on these posts (mostly because I haven’t been reading much of the New Yorker fiction), but I’ve been really enjoying your critiques. Yours, too, Greg — as well as your enthusiasm and gracious attitude when it comes to the commenters!

    As for sarcasm in my introduction — nope! I didn’t mean it to come of as disingenuous :-) . I don’t expect it or demand it, but I love seeing translated fiction in The New Yorker, and seeing two pieces in a row . . . well, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before (I’ll have to look). But it was particularly interesting — though I don’t want to suggest it means anything — to see two pieces from the Russian, and both by women authors. I probably shouldn’t have brought as much attention to this as I did, as the pieces should simply stand on their own. Are they any good?

    Well, I agree with you and Sean: this was fine, and I did really like the ending. But I’m not sure what the point was in publishing this either. That said, it is so different from what I’m used to seeing that I’ll take it as a change of pace over much of the more familiar — and boring — stuff we often see. I’d like to read it again, which shouldn’t be too hard but usually doesn’t happen in my home these days, because knowing the resolution of the piece just might help me get through much of the early, dry material.

  4. Greg January 25, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks Trevor for continuing to support this section of the website even though the quality of writing is nowhere near the writers who inspired it – William Trevor and Alice Munro!

  5. Ken February 3, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I concur–pretty thin stuff with a good last paragraph. There are some funny bits of comic miserabilism, but also much that is rather dry and simply descriptive without evoking or meaning very much.

  6. Pauline February 14, 2016 at 10:34 am

    I’d love to hear from some of the women on this forum (which I’ve been stalking guiltily for the past year or so – I’ve enjoyed the high bar you set). I could completely relate to the description of the tediousness of keeping up with tradition so was immediately positively pre-disposed from the start. I also raised an eyebrow at seeing two Russian writers in a row….is The New Yorker trying to remedy its historically male skew but still caught in the trap of the culturally familiar? All this aside, I liked the story – short and sweet, vividly descriptive, and, at least in my case, able to make a connection with the reader, which I completely missed in the previous week’s story.

  7. juliemcl February 15, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Hi Pauline – I loved this story too. I was surprised to see Sean comment above that the story has no underlying politics. I think it’s very concerned with the violence inherent in preparing meat for consumption, and the ways and extent to which the human mind must justify and grapple with that. It was very interesting to me that in her interview with Deborah Treisman the author talks about exactly this, but notes that she’s not a vegetarian because “science confirms that plants can hear themselves being eaten.” (Uh, I’ll have to look for that study…)

    Also, I just loved the paragraph about all the ritual involved in having people over and serving this dish. And then the crying – described as senseless, violent – to deal with it, to be able to continue on.

    I don’t usually like the one-pagers – I enjoy a good long short story – but this one contained multitudes.

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