“Waiting for the Miracle”
by Lara Vapnyar
Originally published in the April 25, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker website.

April 25, 2016In 2003, Vapnyar published her debut story in The New Yorker, “Love Lessons, Mondays, 9 a.m.” Over next decade, she published the past few years, Lara Vapnyar has published five more in the magazine, including a couple of stories we’ve posted on, though hardly discussed, here: “Fischer vs. Spassky” in 2012 (our post here) and “Katania” in 2013 (our post here). Neither got a massive response here (indeed, no one really wrote anything about “Fischer vs. Spassky,” though I remember reading it quite late in the game).

Consequently, for me, Vapnyar remains very much an unknown entity. Looking into her history a bit for this post, I am impressed with all she has accomplished. Apparently, she only started learning English in 1994, when she moved to Brooklyn from Moscow. Her first book was published in 2002, with a story in The New Yorker arriving in 2003. That’s an amazing story right there, and it looks like many of her stories circle around the experience of Russian émigrés in New York.

That’s the basic setup for “Waiting for the Miracle” as well.

Looking forward to any thoughts below!

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By |2016-04-25T11:39:06-04:00April 18th, 2016|Categories: Lara Vapnyar, New Yorker Fiction|6 Comments


  1. Ken April 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I have never been the first respondent on this site. That itself has me all aflutter!

    Seriously, I liked this as a rather light, forgettable pleasant example of middle-brow fiction–easy to read, no challenges, focused on narrative and a (basically simple, clear) character study. We have the immigrant enthralled by Manhattan, those who are not so happy, and a magical yet lost connection. All rather predictable but pleasant enough.

  2. Sean H April 28, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    A very “pure” and self-contained writer, almost textbook here. If you like classic craft, character privileged over plot, and more epiphanic than structurally baroque, this is for you. “Katania” from a few years back is a legitimate masterpiece, truly original and with few artistic equals in its genre save perhaps Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Lapnyar’s socio-politics are refreshingly implicit and the interplay here, between the iconic cultural relevance of Leonard Cohen and the interactions of the characters in this tale, and this transposed against the existentialist immigrant drama, perfectly captures that moment of swimmy timelessness and out-of-place-ness endemic to international travel and new immigration – the grasping at the past mixed with the sheer freedom of it (he only talks to the girl at the cafe because he’s “out of time” and abroad and unrestricted by consequences) mixed again with a desire for non-freedom, for predictability, a raft to climb onto whilst adrift, to have a book to read and a comrade to visit. Vapnyar’s writing is complex and has no waste. Her stories are drum-tight. This is also a brilliant example of a writer going across gender lines. Her ability to craft a convincing close-third-person POV story about a protagonist of the opposite gender is something more young writers need to master.

  3. William Check April 29, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Maybe this is too obvious, and perhaps it was implicit in the prior two posts. But I have always been an obvious kind of guy so I’ll bring it out of the shadows. While the characters and action and dialogue are handled well, I think the nugget in the story is the demonstration of human perverseness. His favorite Cohen song is “Waiting for the Miracle”. He comes to New York all excited — it’s maybe his opportunity for a miracle. (By the way, the description of a young man’s feelings on his first visit to New York was really familiar to me — that was just how I felt 40 years ago on my first visit to the city. Walked all day, stayed up most of the night.) He meets a young woman and spends the night with her. However, the strength of his need to continue to explore, to be free and without demands, leads him to heedlessly leave the young woman’s apartment without getting her contact info. Only later does he realize what a mistake he made, but by then it’s too late — he doesn’t remember anything about where he was in that strange and baffling city.

    He found his miracle, and he threw it away. His fixation on some nebulous, unspecified thrill caused him to overlook the particular wonder that he had discovered. It’s difficult to appreciate what we have right here when we’re always looking for what’s out there.

  4. Greg April 29, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks William for sharing this message that the author wanted to convey….it is a great lesson that I can apply to my own life.

    Also, thank you Sean for making this story come to life for me. Your POV observation was my favourite part……We are very fortunate to have you comment in this space every week!

  5. avataram May 10, 2016 at 10:04 am

    As a H1B visa holder, working with many Russian Émigrés in NY, I loved the story more than many others this year. Not many stories are written about H1B visa holders, only political points are made about them in an election year. I felt the “miracle” here is getting to NY itself. We have to pass through many hurdles in our home country and then qualify in the H1B lottery, as only 1 in 3 or 1 in 5 are chosen to get the visa. The process was so difficult and the sense of triumph – anything seemed within one’s reach – was so great, that I dragged my wife and jet lagged 4 year olds to Central Park the same day we arrived to simply savor the triumph. The getting lucky on the first day in the US may seem like the miracle, but it is nothing compared to the visa itself.

  6. Greg May 11, 2016 at 12:25 am

    Thank you Avataram for making us aware how lucky we are to be living here…..sometimes I take for granted how many opportunities I have….and how safe and comfortable my life is…..many years ago my friend Lara told me that one of the reasons she reads literature is to appreciate how fortunate she is…..thanks Avataram for your reminder.

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