Sana Krasikov is remarkably upbeat for someone recovering from swine flu. But then, she has a great deal to buoy her up — named by the National Book Foundation as one of the most promising writers under 35, she has just won a $100,000 prize awarded by the Jewish Book Council for her debut short-story collection, One More Year, and the critical response has been correspondingly phenomenal.
It is easy to label Krasikov’s work as dealing predominantly with migration — in one tale, Maia lives alone in America, working as a carer to send money back to her teenage son in Georgia from whom she feels increasingly alienated; in another, Victor discovers that the daughter of his first love back home is also living in New York and longs to meet her — but each of these engaging, subtle and sophisticated stories touches on far more universal issues. “I think the themes are much more about class,” she argues, “and about relationships between parents and children, and the compromises people make for love.”
Of her own move, aged eight, from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to the New York suburbs, she says: “I remember being told that it was difficult for me and that I cried, but I think I blocked it out.” Her parents were computer engineers and luckily found similar work in New York. And it was certainly easier being Jewish in America. “Russia proper has a real culture of antisemitism but Georgia is a very diverse place. My mother’s three best friends were a Pole, a Russian who was married to an Armenian, and a Georgian — being one more thing wasn’t a big deal. There’s one famous plaza in Tbilisi that has three churches, two synagogues and a mosque.”
But Russia’s antisemitism ultimately led to the family’s emigration, when her father was told that, after seven years of research, he could not be awarded his PhD — the quota of Jews was already full. “He called my mother and told her we were leaving…
“I didn’t have a batmitzvah because we were new to the country and had other things going on. But I did sort of teach myself; when I was in Moscow, on a Fulbright, a friend organised a feminist Torah study group and we would get together once a week and discuss the Midrash. She and I would spend hours and hours talking. Even just as a writer, I find a lot of literary value in that kind of analysis. That’s the part of Judaic life that resonates most for me.”
Writing was never something she considered as a career, and she was well on her way to law school when, at the last moment, she decided to apply to the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop and, following the success of One More Year, Krasikov is now working on her first novel. “A novel is such a different animal. I’ve always been a punctilious researcher but this story has a big historical component looking at several different periods of history, and so I feel responsible to the people who actually went through certain experiences. So lots of researching and plotting before I start writing.”
It will be worth waiting for. Krasikov is a tremendous new talent and, though she explains that Iowa graduates are taught that the author’s identity is irrelevant to the appreciation of the prose, it is also worth noting that she is a tremendously nice woman.