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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 6, 2006

EDITORS: This is one in a planned series of occasional feature articles on some of the writers from around the world who are taking part in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program this fall.

Golubovich Tells The World's Story Through The Story Of Her Family

Kseniya Golubovich, a Russian writer in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing program for two weeks this fall through the Open World Program, will acknowledge that people have always told her that she seems older than her biological age. And you don't have to converse with her very long to understand what they mean. At the age when most of us were playing in the sandbox and speaking our first complex sentences, Golubovich was recognizing and accepting her destiny as a writer.

"I've always known since my childhood -- since I was 5, I think -- that I would tell my family story," she says. "There is a moment when, in a family, you already remember three or four generations before you -- I was raised by my great-grandmother, who was born in 1902. And at that point, this recognition of being one in a row of so many different people created a feeling that I have got to tell this story.

"It is like a fountain, and there is so much sorrow in that, and lost opportunities, and also love -- and there will be, in any family, a child who arrives and thinks, 'I am going to write it. It is a book. I must do it.'"

So in the late 1970s, at kindergarten age, living in a Soviet communal apartment in Moscow, Golubovich began systematically collecting material for the stories she knew she would someday write -- stories told in her novel, "Fulfillment of Wishes," and in short stories. "Even as a child I interviewed," she explains. "I asked them purposefully, 'Tell me your story. How was it?' And I knew, exactly, that I had to remember. I had this mission, when I was 5: I have to remember, not to lose a drop."

Of course, at that age she was too young to actually take notes, but she devised her own approach and method: "The way I take notes is through the sounds and images that impress me. I am of that generation that had tape recorders from the time you can remember yourself. So I used to think of myself as a tape recorder."

Her great-grandmother also read to her, four or five hours each day, telling her the myths and fairytales of many lands and many cultures. "For me, myths or fairy stories and the stories of my family are mixed -- so it is one big fairy tale," she says.

"And it was a very broad fairy tale, because on my father's side I'm coming from a family of political immigrants, who emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1958, out of a very big clash between Stalin and Tito. And my grandfather, who was a minister of internal affairs and later an ambassador, took sides with Stalin, and he fled."

For one who was a Yugoslav dissident to the left of Tito, Moscow was the natural refuge. "He took all his family -- my grandmother who, before this, passed all the wartime in concentration camps with two children. My father was born there and grew up to be a western, Americanized dissident. And he went back to Yugoslavia, where my grandfather couldn't go, because of the death sentence he had. When my father came to Yugoslavia, he met Tito's granddaughter, and they married, and therefore the two enemies would have common grandchildren."

Growing up in the Soviet Union as the granddaughter of foreign, political immigrants played a significant role in Golubovich's sense as a detached observer of family life and the society around her: "I looked different, and my family story was different. It didn't come from the village or city; it came from history -- very occasional, very particular circumstances. And therefore it made me very attentive to a particular set of circumstances.

"And, finally, the other line of my family: They were communists; they fought during the war -- there were war stories in the family -- and my mother was not so much a storyteller as a story-maker, because she belonged to the '70s generation of rebellion, as my father did. So with her I had to investigate all the nightlife of Moscow, with dissident writers, and actors and the theater world. And she was very theatrical, herself, my mom, as you would expect the generation of the '70s to be."

The stories and images and impressions Golubovich was accumulating were also enriched by the diversity of the family's living arrangement in the Soviet Union of the late '70s and early '80s. "We all lived in the same communal apartment, and a communal apartment is a post-revolutionary apartment which was inhabited by one family and would be broken into pieces," she explains "And so I would have, at the beginning of the apartment and the end of the apartment, people of absolutely different worlds.

"There was an English teacher from the institute of foreign languages, who was courted by (Russian poet Vladimir) Mayakovsky, and in the apartment there would be stories about how she smacked him on the face. In another part of the apartment would be an absolutely wild, beautiful and strange peasant woman, who would walk with no shoes and would come out and curse. All her children would be in prison, so a lot of prison stories would be told. And in the middle there would be a family that was working in the secret state biological plant, so they would be very secretive. So there were a lot of pieces of the worlds of other people in the communal apartment."

Gulobovich, with her precocious receptivity to a broader history and context -- eventually including a recovered sense of her Serbian heritage, and what she learned from her British step-father -- conceived this rich personal material as a microcosm of the world's story. "You know that history -- all the world's history -- brought you to be born, because of everything, the wars, the escapes, the revolution," she observes. "But your world consists of small things as a child. This makes you attentive to details -- to see your story, even the world's story, in a very small situation. So, it's not that I am trying to tell small stories. I am telling big stories, but from the point of view of a child.

"I discovered in every adult one and the same mechanism -- the adult has a great fairy-tale promise for a child. The figure of an adult is like a person from some myth. It is a personal myth you tell to a child, and the child trusts. But there is always a point where a child is finding out that there is a place where death is, and where the child is always sentenced to death.

"My task was to be able to memorize the great myths, and also to find out where I felt I'm dying, where it's not my world, not my time. I am pushed away. It's like being nursed by four adults and finally becoming. And the question is, would the growth I came into seem empty, without time? In reality, it was quite wise of me to feel that way, because I was in the last generation to be consciously born in the Soviet Union. I am in the generation where the Soviet Union ends. There is no future."

But there IS more writing to be done, nonetheless, where the tumultuous history of her own generation is told. Golubovich is now writing four love stories that reflect the death of the Soviet Union, and the depression that follows euphoria -- what she calls "the night side of liberation."

"We were maturing in a very complicated period," she says. "In the beginning of perestroika we were given a unique historical chance. A very big wave of many things happening brought us up, like to the mountain, and we were able to see the world. Even if you didn't travel, the focus of the world was there. And once you are in that, you never forget how it feels.

"Some people went down with the same wave, but some people still have the memory of what it's like to be on top, and see the world. And I think there is an obligation to this event, and it has not been spoken about. When the world focuses, it's not just about you anymore. What you say is part of a larger scene. Whatever you said and did mattered. It was like you were in some Shakespearean tragedy, suddenly, on stage. Even if you were a minor character, it didn't matter."

Golubovich has published the poetry collection "Persona," the travelogue "The Serbian Parable" and the novel, "Fulfillment of Wishes." She contributes essays on life in contemporary Russia to several newspapers and journals, including Logos, a philosophical magazine. She holds a master's degree from Moscow University, where she recently taught a special course on poets and power.

She was one of four Russian writers visiting the IWP through Open World, a unique, nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress that builds mutual understanding between the emerging leaders of participating countries and their U.S. counterparts. It also exposes delegates to ideas and practices they can adapt for use in their own work.

Founded in 1999 with a focus on Russia, the program has also in recent years hosted delegations from Lithuania, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Delegates range from mayors to journalists, from nonprofit directors to small-business owners, and from political activists to high-court judges. More than 10,500 Open World participants have been hosted in all 50 U.S. states.

Biographies of all 29 of this fall's IWP writers are accessible at www.uiowa.edu/~iwp.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu

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