A Door Behind a Door
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About the Author
Yelena Moskovich was born in Ukraine (former USSR) and emigrated to Wisconsin with her family as Jewish refugees in 1991. She studied theatre at Emerson College, Boston, and in France at the Lecoq School of Physical Theatre and Université Paris 8. Her plays and performances have been produced in the US, Canada, France, and Sweden. She has also written for Vogue, Frieze Magazine, The Paris Review, Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, Happy Reader, Mixte Magazine, the Skirt Chronicles, and Dyke_on Magazine. She is the winner of the 2017 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize. In 2018, she served as a curator and exhibiting artist at the Los Angeles Queer Biennial. Her first novel The Natashas was published in 2016. She lives in Paris.
Yelena Moskovich's A Door Behind A Door reminded me, as I was speeding through it, for there was no other way to read a work of such momentum and force, that novels are made of sentences, and who else writes sentences like this, does anyone else, I thought, as if in a fever dream, opening up each portal and falling through it, write sentences like this juxtaposing despair and lust, tragedy and farce. It's like a hornier, more visceral The Crying of Lot 49.
--Kate Zambreno, author of Screen Tests, Heroines, and Green Girl
It's like nothing I've ever read before! Read if you're into: Soviet diaspora stories, experimental fiction.
--Emily Burack, Hey Alma
A Door Behind a Door is mysterious like an inscrutable note found in a book you thought was new & haunting like the memory of a friend you betrayed. Murder, national identity, emigration, family, America, all swirl around in this story of a ghost from the homeland sabotaging a new life that feels like fairy tale fallen down a trap door.
--Josh Cook, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)
A Door Behind a Door almost makes you relearn reading. It's told in bursts and bites of language that go on to mess with your mind. The best way to read it is in one sitting, preferably in the middle of the night. I did not do that and I wish I did.
--Anton Bogomazov, Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)
Oh, hell yes! Told from a variety of viewpoints--including that of a supernatural stray dog--and chopped into short fragments of prose, Yelena Moskovich's A Door Behind a Door is a tiny tornado of fury, power, and homoeroticism amongst a community of Soviet immigrants in a purgatorial Milwaukee. Olga is forced to suddenly leave the blissful life she shares with her girlfriend in search of her brother, who has fallen in with the local Russian mafia amid a string of mathematical stabbings. She ends up knife-in-hand, after waitressing at a sleepless diner and catching a few glimpses/glitches of her brother as she and everyone around her sails into a raging sea. Read this book--once, twice, thrice--and you'll get something new out of it every time.
--Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, The Raven Bookstore (Lawrence, KS)
"Utterly striking, Yelena Moskovich's A Door Behind a Door successfully reimagines and subverts conventional notions of genre and form. Moskovich's prior screenplay work is palpably felt in this work... A Door Behind a Door serves as a testament to Yelena Moskovich's singular talent and innovation as a writer, a highly engrossing tale swirled in mystery and murder that will keep readers turning its pages until the very end."
--Meghana Kandlur, Seminary Co-op Bookstores (Chicago, IL)
Moskovich (Virtuoso) mystifies with this vivid story of a pair of estranged siblings who immigrated to Milwaukee from the Soviet Union as children in 1991... The dynamic style and psychological depth make this an engaging mind bender.
A tense puzzle box of a tale... This impressionistic novel is relayed in short paragraphs of sparse, measured prose as Moskovich portrays a loosely connected group of Russian immigrants caught up in a heady mixture of desire and violence.
--Kristine Huntley, Booklist
Happiness is a horror when you don't believe you deserve it; so an immigrant learns in Yelena Moskovich's daring literary novel, A Door Behind a Door... Olga and others narrate the tale in evocative, needful micro bursts. But as the book progresses, it seems increasingly likely that the others are part of a bleak fantasy, borne of Olga's terror.... an excruciating novel in which love can be undone by stabs of selfdoubt.
--Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews
Yelena Moskovich returns with her latest work, A Door Behind a Door, bearing many of the hallmarks - the post-Soviet diaspora, the mesmeric blending of past and present, desire and violence - of her previous novels, Virtuoso and The Natashas. This time we are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the protagonist Olga receives a phone call opening up a Pandora's box of haunting memories and unsolved puzzles from her Soviet past.
--Matt Janney, The Calvert Journal, Books to look forward to in 2021
Here is a novel that breaks the conventions of novel-writing... I particularly loved the way this narrative challenged my ideas of what fiction can be. The novel itself is a metaphor for the nonlinearity of time--of how the past not only informs the present but eats it. Of how the future not only feeds the past, but invents it. The author seems to ask, does it matter if it's a dream when the consequences bleed into reality? I recommend this to anyone who loves atmospheric reads, mysterious childhoods, and are tired of predictable, formulaic novels.
--Swati Sudarsan, @booksnailmail
Book Club and Reader Guide: Questions and Topics for Discussion
If you've also read author Yelena Moskovich's earlier novels, The Natashas and Virtuoso, what similarities or common themes did you notice? What differences?
Early on, the main character, Olga Bokuchava, says that she didn't tell her girlfriend Angelina about a murder that had occurred during her childhood due to a "feeling of anachronistic dread." How does that wording relate to other elements of this novel, and set the tone for the book?
The great Russian novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky -- a dark tale of murder infused with philosophical, religious, and social commentary -- is referenced and quoted in A Door Behind a Door. What connections do you see between the novels? Which characters experience punishment?
Quotes and imagery from "The Sail," a famous poem by the Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov that many school children are asked to recite from memory, recur throughout the novel. After reading the poem, what connections can you make between the themes in it and themes in A Door Behind a Door?
Each of the sections in this novel start with an emboldened line that are sometimes part of the running text and at other times act as headers. What effect did the style have on your reading? Why do you think the author might have been inspired to use this technique?
In A Door Behind a Door, the author has written about queer characters and their lives. Discuss the characters' sexualities: What are their different obstacles? What relationships were unique, and in what ways? Do you think the exploration of "queerness" in this book goes beyond just the sexual?
In what ways does author Yelena Moskovich explore time and place in A Door Behind a Door? In an analysis of Moskovich's previous novel Virtuoso for The Sociological Review, Clare Fisher considers the formation of queer time and space in the story through the lens of Halberstam, who has written the following; how does this enhance your reading of A Door Behind a Door?"Queer Time is a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois production and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance. Queer Space refers to the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage and it also describes the new understandings of space enabled by the production of queer counterepublics." (From In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives)
The theme of water: dampness, wetness, floods, drips, waves, and shades of the color blue, occur frequently throughout this novel. In what sections did you notice water-related descriptors? Why do you think the author chose to do this? How do the references to water tie in to the larger story?
In an essay published by The Calvert Journal (December 21, 2020) on the theme of home, author Yelena Moskovich wrote the following; considering the important role that religion plays in A Door Behind a Door, how does this insight about her family's background further your reading of the novel?My tongue otherwise is this: born in Soviet Ukraine, my family, Jewish mutts from Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, etc., live as "Jewish" nationals on their homeland, meaning that at the time, all Jews in the USSR were not considered natives of that territory. In my hand-written birth certificate, I am welcomed as: daughter of Jew and Jewess, nationality Jew, Yelena Valer'evna Moskovich. As all Jews, the adults are slighted, diminished, humiliated in the heartbreaking banality of the Soviet institution - access to work, school, cultural resources, and sense of humanity denied. Their kids, dark cursive faces, are collateral damage of the era.
Olga's brother is named both Misha, which means "Who Is Like God?" and is of Russian origin, but renames himself Moshe, which has a meaning of "Drawn Out Of The Water" and is of Hebrew origin. In which parts of the novel does he use each of the names? What importance do you see in the difference of the names for this character? Considering the different scenes that he is in, how is adult Moshe's character described? What do you think is the meaning behind his one eye?
One of the most recognizable symbols in Judaism is the Star of David, a six-pointed star. The star appears in two major forms: what are they? Where does Moshe tell Rémy he found the necklace? How are the intertwined stories connected through the symbol? What are your interpretations?
Numbers play an important part of this novel -- one-two; once, twice, thrice; un, deux, trois; a recurring number 6; the frequent occurrence of a word or phrase repeated three times -- what significance do you think this has? Nicky and Olga are both described as loving numbers, with Nicky even calling mathematics his paradise. In the ending pages of the section narrated by Nicky, we learn his motive for killing the woman on floor six; what parallels does this have to Olga?
How are themes of "family" and "home" explored in this novel? Which characters find a home and how? Which family relationships are strong or strained?
When do locks and keys appear? What are your interpretations of them?
What are the literal and figurative braids or twining that you noticed in A Door Behind a Door?
Lisette, a name meaning God's Promise, plays an important role for many of the characters: what is it? How is she described?
How are the characters Angelina and Oksana similar? What good deeds do they do, and what are their fates?
Vaska -- a Russian diminutive of the name Vasiliy, meaning "Protector, Guardian" -- is the mutt that young Nicky befriends. When Vaska is first introduced, what celestial words are used, and why do you think the author chose to do this? How does this fit in with larger themes of the novel? In the beginning of the main scenes that Vaska is in, what state is Nicky in? What role does the dog play?
What happens to Olga's palms when she is in the jail? Who else has palms like this? The description of "open palms" occurs elsewhere throughout the novel. What significance do you think this has?
What do you think the meanings of "Fire and Ice" are? What elements are described as burning hot and ice cold? There is a famous poem by Robert Frost of this same name that discusses the end of the world, perishing twice, fire as desire, ice as hate: what connections do you see with the novel and the poem?
Early on, how does Nicky describe what a door behind a door is? How do Hell, America, the diner, and the jail fit into the story? What might each symbolize?
For Tanya Tarasova, her sexuality is very much a central issue and we see her displaying a range of mixed emotions: lesbian desire, homophobia, self-hate, an earnest wanting of love. Despite her bullying, there are moments when she is tender and vulnerable: when were they? What do you think the author's intentions were with this character? Considering that Tanya frequently acts or speaks in violent ways, is full of anger and rage, and is hypersexual, what might this character represent? There are two distinct scenes where her voice changes: when are those instances? What might be the meaning behind jokes and laughter?
Which characters are dead and which are alive? How does this change at different parts of the story? Do you think the author is using a character's "death" in the literal sense, or might these deaths have other meanings?
Sveta and Rémy do not remain in the story in the same way as the other characters. Why do you think that is? What did they have in common and how were they different from the other characters?
What other symbols or recurring actions did you notice throughout the novel, and what meanings do you think they might have?
On a blank piece of paper, write down this list of character names, cut them out, and then arrange them on a white board or large background paper with arrows and words explaining the various connections and relationships: br>Angelina
Old lady on Floor 6