Friday, February 02, 2007

Pg. 69: "Petropolis"

Anya Ulinich was born in 1973 in Moscow. When she was seventeen, her family left Moscow and immigrated to the United States. Anya attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received an MFA from the University of California at Davis. In 2000, she moved to Brooklyn, abandoned painting and began to write.

Petropolis is her first novel. It arrives on the bookshelves this month.

Anya was kind enough to put her novel to the "page 69 test." Here is what she reported:
Pg 69 of Petropolis passes the test just fine. It's fairly representative of the book. On this page, the main character, Sasha Goldberg, is fourteen, living in a town called Asbestos 2, and is in love with a boy named Alexey. On the first half of the page, Sasha is at her art school, being unreasonably optimistic. She considers herself luckier than, for example, Picasso, because Picasso is dead, and she is still alive. Unreasonable optimism is representative of Sasha Goldberg. By the way, the art school is nicknamed AFTER EATIN because of the slogan painted on its building (BRUSH TEETH AFTER EATIN). The second half takes place in the town's dump, where Sasha's object of desire lives. Alufiev is Alexey's neighbor.

Here is the nearly entire pg 69 (this is from the galley - it may be slightly different in the final book - I can't remember what changes I made):

She knew that she faced obstacles unimaginable to Picasso. She’d never tried oil. The students at The District 7 Evening Art Studio for Children used cheap watercolors, mixing in wall paint to make them opaque. They painted with scratchy plastic brushes on stained butcher paper that their parents brought home wrapped around salted herring. But these were just challenges to be overcome, and she had plenty of time.

Sasha Goldberg sat on a lopsided wooden stool, contemplating the
eternity in front of her. She felt a species apart from her mother, from Bedbug, from Rema, from Picasso. She was a winner by birthright. Picasso, foot or no foot, was dead, and Asbestos 2 adults, with their greasy suits, mended socks, and varicose veins were rushing to join him in the grave.

Sasha Goldberg was not going to repeat their mistake. She sat at the
beginning of a straight road to happiness, never previously achieved by anyone. It was the kind of happiness Sasha didn’t bother to imagine, but knew would be hers.

“I have to show you to Alufiev.”

“Who’s that?”

“You’ll see.”

Alufiev lived in barrel number six. He was tall and pear-shaped and smelled of turpentine. His blueberry eyes looked lost in the thick lenses of his glasses.

“Good Girl,” said Alufiev, closing the door behind Sasha and Alexey. “Very nice girl! Come visit old Alufiev!”

Save for a dirty cot in the corner, Alufiev had no furniture in his barrel. Icons in various stages of completion lay on the floor and lined the walls. Alexey plopped on the cot, pulling Sasha down with
him. Alufiev muttered something and shuffled out the door.

“Alufiev, he’s world-famous,” said Alexey. Alufiev knew a vendor in Moscow who sold his icons to tourists on Swallow Hills Observation Deck. Alexey explained that after painting his icons, Alufiev worked their surfaces with steel-wool and a hot iron to make them appear authentic. Sasha hardly listened. All she could focus on was Alexey’s hand, which was now firmly on her waist.
Many thanks to Anya for the input.

Read an excerpt from Petropolis.

Among the advance praise for Petropolis:
"A beautiful, far-ranging voice equally at home on both sides of the Atlantic … Anya Ulinich's satiric romp gives new meaning to the word 'bittersweet."
– Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan

"When a coming-of-age novel is truly different, it can send shock waves through unsuspecting readers. This brave blend of satire, farce, and heart-wrenching realism delivers the necessary voltage to do just that ... Ulinich plays this absurdist immigrant's journey for all its black-comedic potential, but she never loses sight of Sasha's bedrock humanity. Her triumphs are attenuated at every turn by lingering levels of despair, but her ability to find a pulse of life in even the most outrageous turns of fortune lifts the novel as far beyond parody as it is beyond convention."
– Bill Ott for Booklist (starred review)

"How did she do it? Anya Ulinich has written — and in a second language, no less — a smashing debut, at once a deeply moving coming-of-age odyssey and a globe-spanning satire of societies gone desperately and hilariously awry. I loved Petropolis for its bone-dry humor, eye-popping authenticity, and vividly realized characters. Most of all, I loved Sasha Goldberg. Through its darkest and most comic moments, this book made me very, very happy."
– Katherine Shonk, author of The Red Passport

"A dark irresistible comedy with an authentic Russian voice."
– Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park and Stalin's Ghost
View Anya's paintings and visit her website.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue