Title: Vanya Says, “Go!” - A Retelling of Mikhail Kuzmin’s ‘Wings’
Author: Wayne Goodman
Release Date: October 20th 2016
Genre: Retelling, Gay Fiction
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
Watch Wayne Goodman read from Vanya Says “Go!” on Facebook
As he bustled about, Daniel Ivanovich expounded, as if lecturing an entire class. “It is interesting how we see what we want to see and understand only what we seek. As in the Greek tragedies, Romans and the Romanic people of the 17th Century saw only the three unities: action, time, and place. While in the 18th Century, it was rolling rants and ideas of liberation peppered with romance and amazing feats of heroism. Now, in our age, we prefer a biting tone and savagery, like Klinger’s Sturm und Drang, which further illuminates…”
So energetic and vibrant. How did I ever get the idea he was very old when he acted so very young? Yes, he’s balding, but his vitality shone through a timeworn lacquer.
“In the 15th Century,” he went on, “the Italians already firmly established a view of the friendship between Achilles and Patroclus–as well as Orestes and Pylades–as Sodomitic love. However, in Homer, there is no indication of this.”
Curious that he chose to lecture me on Sodomitic love. Was it that he could sense the budding feelings within me or was he, perhaps, about to make a case for his own feelings? I did have a question though, “So, the Italians made it up?”
“No, they were right, but the fact is that only a cynical attitude toward any kind of love can make it seem like debauchery. Is it moral or immoral when I sneeze or wash dust from the table”–which he had not done for quite a while, I imagined–“or stroke the kitten?” He looked around the room at the various things he mentioned. “And yet, these same actions may be criminal, if, for example–let's say–I'm sneezing to warn a killer of the time that is convenient for a murder, and so on. He dispassionately, and without malice, commits this murder, which divests this action of any ethical colouring, except for the mystical communion between killer and victim, two steadfast lovers, or mother and child.”
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. Links: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Giveaway: Win a SIGNED paperback of Vanya Says, “Go!”