In 1906, Mikhail Kuzmin published “Wings,” the first book in Russian to discuss same-sex relationships in a positive light. With “Vanya Says, ‘Go!,’” Wayne Goodman retells the story from the perspective of the young man at the heart of the tale. The original work contained only three sections, but a fourth has been added to round out the story and provide some closure.
Kuzmin was one of the most celebrated poets of his time, the Silver Age of Russian Poetry. While his poems were quite successful, his somewhat-autobiographical novel “Wings” met with skepticism and criticism. Kuzmin used many constructs from poetry (characters who appear all too briefly with no second mention, plot jumps with little connecting material, long-winded orations); however, his descriptions of scenery are exquisite, and the dialogue is quirky and colorful. “Vanya Says, ‘Go!'” is crafted for the modern reader while keeping much of the original Russian style. It is a window into a time and places long gone. The story is narrated by the main character, who at 16 years of age is dealing with being an orphan foisted off on friends of distant relatives and attempting to acquaint himself with his sexual orientation while also discovering various religious and philosophical frameworks.
“An exemplary study in classic Russian literary charm… with a choice cast of picaresque characters. Goodman draws the reader into the desperate historical moment of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, and artfully stages Vanya’s gay yearnings against its fast-moving currents.” — Edmund Zagorin
“The author accurately evokes a long-lost Russia through his marvelous characters and descriptions… the underlying commentary on the decaying social order, and the romance of that forgotten time period.” — Andrew Demcak
“Set in Old Russia… this is an interesting, fact-based story of an orphaned gay youth and his attempt to find himself, his own opinions, and love.” — Daniel Curzon
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A few days later the Kazanskys occupied their usual positions around the dining room at breakfast. Nata, Boba, and Koka sat in the alcove, Kostya and Anna at the table. When I walked into the room, no one paid me any attention. I just wanted a few slices of their stale, dark bread, some of their foul-smelling, oily butter, and a small cup of their nasty coffee.
Just as I reached for the butter knife, Konstantin Vasilyevich sputtered, “What’s this?” He set down the newspaper that had been obscuring his unshaven face. “Listen, everyone. Listen to this.”
Nata, Boba, and Koka stopped stirring their coffees, Anna Nikolayevna looked at her husband, and I dropped the knife back onto the dish with a clunk!
“Mysterious suicide,” Kostya read to us, “Yesterday, in Furshtadtskaya Street, at the apartment of an English citizen, L.D. Stroop, a suicide.”
My heart stopped. I had heard that stupid expression before, thinking it silly because no one’s heart could stop without an impending death. However, at that moment, I fully understood the feeling and the meaning of the words. Had my Stroop taken his own life? He had sounded very upset about some situation, but I couldn’t believe he would kill himself. At least not before seeing me one last time.
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About the Author
Wayne Goodman has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of his life (with too many cats). When not writing, he enjoys playing Gilded Age parlor music on the piano, with an emphasis on women, gay, and Black composers.