by Oleg Woolf
translated from the Russian by Boris Drayluk
“We are lucky to have this extraordinary book, and our loss of its author reverberates with every page”
Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, Oleg Woolf’s Bessarabian Stamps—a cycle of sixteen stories set mostly in the Moldovan village of Sănduleni—is a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. Sănduleni’s denizens are in permanent flux, forever shifting languages, cultures, and states, in every sense of the word. With a warm, Bessarabian irony recalling one of Eastern Europe's long-forgotten regions, the Stamps explore what it means to live on the edges of empires, which rise and fall while Sănduleni abides.
Oleg Woolf was born in 1954 in Moldova, and passed away in 2011 in the United States. A physicist by training, he spent a number of years on geophysical expeditions throughout the former Soviet Union. His poems and prose have appeared in many leading literary journals in Russia and abroad since the 1990s. Along with his wife, Irina Mashinski, he was the founder and editor of the bilingual press Stosvet and its journal, Cardinal Points.
Boris Dralyuk holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from UCLA, where he lectures on Russian literature. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker, World Literature Today, Poetry International, Slavic and East European Journal, Russian History, and other journals. He is the translator of Leo Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does a Man Need (Calypso Editions, 2010), Anton Chekhov’s Little Trilogy (Calypso Editions, forthcoming in 2014), and A Slap in the Face: Four Russian Futurist Manifestos (Insert Blanc, forthcoming in 2013), and co-translator of Polina Barskova’s The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems (Melville House, 2011), and author of the monograph Western Crime Fiction Goes East: The Russian Pinkerton Craze 1907-1934 (Brill, 2012). He is also the co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski, of the forthcoming Anthology of Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky (Penguin Classics, 2015). He received First Prize in the 2011 Compass Translation Award competition, and, with Irina Mashinski, First Prize in the 2012 Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Translation Prize competition.
"Bessarabian Stamps...is a kind of tiny miracle." —Sharon Mesmer
“Terribly good!” —Andrei Codrescu
“The portals of Oleg Woolf’s minimalist Bessarabian Stamps whirl us into the “eternal universe” of the Sănduleni village, whose quirky inhabitants, pained and relieved to be “equal in the face of absurdity,” inhabit, parabolically and courageously, the illusion of control over entrances and exits, and the discord between the self and the self’s presence. Nihilists, optimists, drunks, seers find sustenance in one another’s fabrications and stare into each other’s eyes until “the vague contours of their fates emerge.” In turn, we emerge from the splendors of this seemingly paranormal, surreal world, blessed with new visions—or, to paraphrase Woof, with our inner eyes screwed up, set to work.” —Mihaela Moscaliuc
“‘In my whole life I never got one letter / with its blue stamp cancelled in Asia,’ wrote Nazim Hikmet. Here now is Bessarabian Stamps, uncancelled, from a place where Asia and Eastern Europe meet, the village of Sănduleni, in which we find ‘that old, flaking, threadbare towel that emits a barely visible light even during the day.’ Such attention to the details of humdrum existence earns the village characters their wisdom: ‘There’s such a glut of people on this earth that tossing each other aside is an absolute crime.’ We are lucky to have this extraordinary book, and our loss of its author reverberates with every page.” —Michael Waters
"There is an uninhibited joy in Woolf’s writing, and translator Boris Dralyuk impresses with his ability to capture this quality in translation...Woolf cleverly pairs opposing concepts to convey ironies that are absurd and at the same time hold traces of meaning...Woolf’s alchemy with words compels rereading to better appreciate his intentional nuances, and I succumbed to it by reading the book straight through a second time as soon as I finished it." —Lori Feathers, World Literature Today
Cover art by Alexander Telalim