The unassuming brilliance of Alexander Terekhov
For an author who has been shortlisted for all three of Russia’s major literary awards and won the 2012 National Bestseller Prize, Alexander Terekhov is delightfully modest. Dressed in a casual T-shirt and hoodie, he jumps up from his quiet coffee when interrupted, and patiently fields questions he’s heard far too many times before.
His celebrated 2009 book, The Stone Bridge, finally appeared in English last month. It revolves around the mystery of two teenagers and their murder-suicide on a Moscow bridge in 1943. It is an extraordinary exploration of the Stalin era that refuses "to boil the past down to simple, easily digestible anti-Soviet mush” , as he writes in the novel.
Part documentary, part postmodern fiction, this genre-defying work took Terekhov 10 years to write, with a total of five translators spending two years on the English version.
Of his decade pursuing this historical puzzle through the archives, Terekhov said: "It was a very thorny path. I had to bribe a lot of people and threaten others […] I don’t think you can reach an ultimate reality, but in working on this book I was like a detective looking for the truth.”
His sources ranged from monastic chronicles to Soviet newspapers. There are photographs and transcripts of interviews, alongside reflections on memory, with its "gaps and weaknesses” .
Questions, not answers
Terekhov is clearly not someone who is comfortable with absolute statements. What does he think of London? "I am just a tourist,” he says. "The viewpoint of someone walking around Piccadilly with a pocket full of cash is not objective.”
Similarly, he refuses to give an opinion about the current situation in Ukraine, saying his views are no more valid than anyone else’s. Just as he does in The Stone Bridge, Terekhov prefers to raise more questions than he answers, even about his own work.
"Everything I wanted to say about the book, I wrote in the book,” he says. "It seems to me that it’s the reader who finishes writing it and has their own vision.”
Big city life
Terekhov was a journalist before he devoted his life to fiction and family. "While I was working on this book, I became a father of three children,” he tells the audience at the Waterstones Piccadilly bookshop, London, during an evening talk with the author within the frames of the London Book Fair.
This is not Terekhov’s first literary trip to London, and he always brings his kids along for the ride. Consequently, he told The Kompass, his London consists of "entertainment parks, museums and the zoo” . His middle son, a mini-version of his dad, looks up and grins.
Alexander Terekhov takes part in Read Russia at the London Book Fair, taking place on 8-10 April 2014. Check the full schedule here