Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Wayne Goodman for stopping by today. Please give them a warm welcome.
Title: Vanya Says, “Go!”: A Retelling of Mikhail Kuzmin’s “Wings”
Author: Wayne Goodman
Publisher: *Not Listed
Genre: Gay Fiction, Historical
Release Date: 10/20/2016
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
“Hello, Vanya,” he greeted me with a reassuring smile. “Thank you for meeting me here.”
The lump in my throat would not move. I tried to speak, but no sound came. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of at the moment: I bowed slightly.
Stroop laughed out loud at the gesture. “Vanya, you can be so entertaining at times. Come along. Walk with me.”
He extended his arm with a bare palm facing me. Was he asking me to grasp his hand? I have noticed many men in Italy walking hand-in-hand. Did he intend to offer friendship or something more?
When I did not reach out immediately, he jiggled his hand up and down to suggest that I take it, which I did. It felt big and warm, and I smiled.
We strolled along one of the paths through the garden, and through the imaginatively-manicured trees I could see farm meadows and low mountains behind them. We passed a restaurant, which was deserted at this time of the day. Mounds with circular patterns, and beds of blooming flowers caught my eye.
Soon we reached an incline where there were fewer people, and we moved along past an area with more views of the countryside. Guards with shiny buttons on their tunics sat on the benches at frequent intervals. A large, plump abbot attempted to supervise a group of boys running about on the leafy lawn.
Stroop stopped and sat on one of the benches. “I’m so grateful to you that you agreed to come here.” He patted the empty seat next to him.
I was too nervous to sit. “I hope it wouldn’t be discourteous of me to ask if we could continue to walk. I would rather, you know.” His very presence made me lose the ability to complete a sentence.
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.
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