In This Review

Rock, Paper, Scissors
Rock, Paper, Scissors
By Maxim Osipov. Translated by Alex Fleming and Anne Marie Jackson
New York Review of Books Classics, 2019, 304 pp

This short-story collection portrays small-town Russian life and often feels like a journey back in time. Osipov, a practicing doctor, has been compared to Anton Chekhov, owing not only to their shared vocation but also to the Chekhovian way in which Osipov delves into the lives of ordinary people in dismal circumstances. Many of Osipov’s characters take solace in religion—either Russian Orthodoxy or Islam—or in a misguided celebration of Russia’s renewed militarism. Osipov also invokes an almost visceral love of the Russian landscape. The story “The Gypsy” depicts a doctor from the provinces who supplements his income by escorting sick people from Moscow to the United States. On the plane, he overhears an American steward wondering why “the Russians always stink.” The American doesn’t understand how long it takes travelers just to reach the Moscow airport. The protagonist of the story rejects the idea of moving to the United States, preferring the pungent scent of Russian earth. The collection also reveals the sense of fear and mistrust that has reemerged in Russia over the last two decades. In the final story, members of the Moscow intelligentsia discuss how they would escape from Russia on short notice—without mentioning President Vladimir Putin’s name even once.