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The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight

3.38  ·  Rating Details ·  321 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
In Ochsner's fable-like, magical debut, we see the transcendence of imagination. As Colum McCann has said: "[Ochsner] manages . . . to capture our sundry human moments and make raw and unforgettable music of them."
ebook, 384 pages
Published February 15th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Sep 29, 2010 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
I savored this little book--the elegant writing, the willingness of characters to make definitive statements about life. This is what I love about fiction, something I find irritating in non-fiction, because it's all too often invoked in the self-help genre. But characters giving us advice and insight into the truths about life? This is what I love best in fiction.

(Unless it's Phillip Roth-- like being pigeonholed by a bore at a party for 80 pages--but that's not real fiction, it's authorial ran
Jul 03, 2010 Kerfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Ochsner repeats what we already know about life in the former Soviet Union--it's grim, arbitrary and absurd. The different ethnicities coexist uneasily together on the edge of deprivation and despair.

But "The Russian Dreambook" transcends cliche through memorable characters and narrative. These are lives of parable, lived with gallows humor. Though the physical circumstances are dreary, often unbearable, the world is still filled with magic and dreams. There is no clarity in this Russia--every b
Aug 18, 2010 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the first 150pps or so, this was the best book I'd read in a while, or at least the one I was most excited about. Ochsner has an amazing way of balancing deep character insight, a strong metaphorical sense of location and the particular sense of living in post-Soviet Russia (maybe she could do the same, for example, in tidewater Maryland and maybe not-- who knows?), and a flair for writing jazzy, fizzy, fun sentences that practically dance outside the bounds of literal meaning.

And then, for
Jun 21, 2010 Jessie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Huge-hearted with a spirituality both grounded and airy; such a mix of magic, hope, sadness, compassion & cruelty—and also hilarity & absurdity; comparable in its POV shifts (and generational shifts) to J S Foer’s EXTREMELY LOUD, but more open to ghosts and fables; really in a class of its own, alive with synesthesia: “colour with the noise turned low” (119); “Red she loved. In particular, Siberian red, a lead chromate that can be made to dance the scales of colour from lemon yellow to c ...more
Dec 07, 2009 Marvin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Gina Ochsner has a poetic style of writing and is especially gifted at descriptions. Unfortunately it is not enough to float this novel into the air. This story of post-soviet life simply does not ring true. The characters never ascend past caricatures and Russian / Jewish stereotypes. I understand this is her debut novel and she has two collections of short stories. I am interested in reading her short fiction but this first novel just doesn't do it for me.
Leah Lucci
This book is a mixture of desolate and charming.

By desolate, I mean that they live in mid-to-late 1900s Russia and have no money and are literally fishing in an overfished creek to be able to put food in their mouths. They go to jobs for which they are not paid. There is no running water or heat in the condemned buildings in which they are squatting. They're unlucky in love. One of the main characters kills himself then comes back as a ghost to continue talking to them.

But the way it's written
Jul 28, 2010 melydia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Um. Well, this takes place in post-Soviet Russia, and is more or less about three widows - an Eastern Orthodox Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew - who all live in the same condemned apartment building with their children. Christian Lukeria torments her overweight granddaughter Tanya who spends a lot of her time obsessing over clouds and colors; Muslim Azade learns people's secrets by smelling their excrement and worries over where she went wrong with her son Vitek; Jewish Olga frets over the fate o ...more
Mar 20, 2010 Irene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookswap, arc
The Russian Book of Color and Flight offers provocative insight into what has happened in post-Soviet Russia. As it continues playing "King of the Hill" by fighting wars with Cheynya, Bosnia, Afganistan, Georgia, etc. (not in a historical timeline), the ordinary Russian bears the brunt of such folly.

Muslims, Jews, and Christians circumspectly inhabit a condemned building. While there is no plot per se, the narratives are provided by the main characters in the building. How they live (totally in
Jul 14, 2010 Rosa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I appreciate magical realism and lyrical prose as much as the next person, but after a point there needs to be something substantive for the reader to hold onto - I could have walked away from this book at any point while reading and ended up where I did after slogging through 370 pages. There is a fine line between artful, absurdist whimsy and haphazard self-indulgence... only reason I'm giving it two stars instead of one is because there are brief moments of poignant characterization, there is ...more
Jan 15, 2011 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-give-up
I just assumed the author of a book with this title and story would be Russian, but she went to Russia and observed things and then produced this. (According to an interview - The book's premise is amusing but the characters I found annoying - it seemed more like an American's idea of Russians than Russians.

I am again reminded that even if someone is a award winning fiction writer a particular book may not work for you, the reader. I stopped after fifty
Dec 15, 2009 Angie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I won on, so I felt obligated to finish it. The author uses beautiful, descriptive language which I enjoyed, but it was completely wiped out by her obsession with bodily functions. The book never really went anywhere as far as I could tell. If there was a symbolic meaning, it was lost on me. I just didn't get it.

I hope that Gina Ochsner goes on to write something uplifting because she truly has a gift for prose.
I read this book at the same time that I was listening to Winter Garden and the story of the siege of Leningrad. An interesting synchronicity. I don't know much about Gina Ochsner, but she must have some strong Russian roots or ties because she has captured the sardonic approach to life that I see in most modern Russian novels - I often do not like it but something in this book kept me going. Perhaps it is the touch of the mystical. Also, reading the two books together made me more sensitive to ...more
An enjoyable read, but one you must be willing to meet on it's own terms. You need to shape yourself to the way that Ochsner tells her tales - you can't expect them to fit more familiar shapes.

I like the way a vague story builds at the hands of the various narrators. I like the multitude of references to other stories and myths and dreams within the book - it really does what the title claims. I like the gentle magic realism, and regular striking images that left me breathless.

After reading her
Connie Lindstrom
Very stereotypically Russian literature. A little absurdism, a little aestheticism, a little post-imperialism. I'm not really sure how to describe it--the general plot is about a group of people who live in a block of generally dismal apartments, and some of them work at an art museum. The art museum doesn't have any original art--only reproductions of some pretty strange things from other art museums. The staff is vying for a grant from a group of misguided American philanthropists. There are a ...more
Apr 21, 2015 Kiana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this book! The prose was absolutely beautiful and I liked how the author chose to display a more negative side of Russian where things don't work, people don't get paid and there isn't this glitz and glamour to it. The characters really were extraordinary too. I think the two which stood out to me the most were Tanya and Olga. Tanya had this lovely artistic quality about her with the way she carried her notebook everyone, but she still wanted to get on in life h
Something happened other than simply reading this book that made me uninterested in it. I read reviews from people who said that the characters were stereotypes. Usually I can only stand reading books about cultures that aren't Anglo by people who aren't Anglo, so I don't start reading them until I know it's not the usual upper class, middle aged white American lady trying to write as an Iranian or Nigerian, or as a young African American boy. With this one, I went ahead and tried it because I t ...more
Jun 22, 2016 Claire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
You don't have to be from the area to write in this setting! I think that criticism reflects more poorly on the criticizer than the work in question. Did Andy Weir have to be Martian to write The Martian? Did Pearl S. Buck have to be Chinese to write The Good Earth? I enjoyed all of the above (honestly speaking Pearl Buck's I'm not done yet for sure but...), I think not!

I am surprised at how many people who saw me reading this over the past two-and-a-half-ish weeks gave me the impression "Well,
Matthew Dickerson
The writing is wonderful. Poetic. Engaging. Humorous. Captivating characters.

Ochsner's writing has been characterized as "magical realism". And yes, there is a dead person who walks around the apartment interacting with the tenants. But I don't like those sorts of genre labels. It's just excellent writing. Set in a crumbling apartment building in post-Soviet Russia, the book tells the interwoven tales of the various diverse tenants of the building from Tanya the dreaming coat-check woman at the
I liked the prose (dreamy, lyrical) but not the plot and especially not the characters. Very piecemeal feeling. Written by an Oregon author, set in the Russia of her imagination.
Jan 27, 2010 Elaine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Tried to be both funny and moving and was neither.
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
May 26, 2010 Shellie (Layers of Thought) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: magical realism, translation and language lovers
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: Net Galley
Actually 4.5 stars

Synopsis: Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and “shell shocked” population, a number of diverse individuals relay their lives via an omnipresent narrator in separate yet interrelated chapters. They all live in the same dilapidated building where the plumbing has been non existent for several months. They are coping, but it seems there is nothing they can do about the situation. Most significantly the group experiences a death of one of the
Mar 18, 2012 Sooz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
so the traditonal aspects of the Russian novel are alive and well in The Russian Dreambook. and by that i mean dark-humoured absurdism.
the dead don't stay dead -and- in this case have a lot of opinions about what's going on and talks more than he ever did while alive. the past -both history and folklore- mingles easily with the present. the truth is always subjective and constantly under review. and even the simple act of taking a crap has political, economic and social implications. very littl
Lauren Albert
May 07, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I really liked this despite the fantasy elements (which usually annoy me). The residents of a condemned building in post-Soviet Russia struggle to survive in a world in chaos--their salaries go unpaid, their told (and made to write) lies about the war and those lost in it, and they are haunted by of their own, Mircha, who had thrown himself from the roof of the building and now came to give advice and always at the worst possible moments. Ochsner manages to inject humor into their grim lives wit ...more
Jul 31, 2016 Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, first-reads
Okay, so this book was really pretty weird. But I like weird and weird is my thing and I thought it worked. It was a good weird. Good weird is good. There was a little bit of shockingness at how bad the author makes Russian life sound. I was told in 7th grade that Russia is pretty much like the US, only Russian instead. People wear jeans, they go to school, etc. This book makes it sound like people have no money, though, oddly, there was always something to dig out of their pockets. But the impo ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Nadine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book ages ago, but many times my mind will wistfully wander back into this book, its place and people. I really enjoyed how unique it was.
Bizarre, sad, strange yet fascinating for someone who has never been to Russia, this book paints such a realistic and unpolished portrait of life in a poor neighbourhood. There is a magical element to it but it is part of life, and all of it makes sense in the end. You'll see!
Karen Chow
May 17, 2012 Karen Chow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It was a piece of literary fiction that I actually enjoyed. Oschner really brought post-Communist Russia to life...the misery and poverty and grayness. In the bleakest situation (where having a working latrine is one of the pluses of life), these characters manage to find happiness where they live. An almost impossible task, but still possible.

Out of the 4 perspectives, I related with Tanya the most (loved her musings about the cloud color) and Azade the least (thought the exposition about her b
Aug 03, 2015 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully-written debut novel concerning the lives of various people in a poor, industrial, Russian city and how one death affects the inhabitants of the city. It is a wonderfully descriptive story and Ochsner's prose is so stunning that it draws away from the fact that the novel doesn't progress very much from the beginning to the end of the book. Nevertheless it was a satisfying, enjoyable read.
Aug 13, 2013 Elise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this charming, darkly comic, and magic realist book about post-USSR Russia. The characters are lovable (well, most of them are), and Ochsner shows how even in a world of poverty and rubbish heaps, where survival itself is a kind of miracle, the human heart still has the wherewithal to create beauty, to dream, and to fall in love. I was bothered, however, by two things. The author seems to be writing about Russia from an American perspective--blind spots and all, and some things were in ...more
Oct 12, 2014 Adrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Arkady says "It has a nice poetic odour of sentimentality. And only no meaning. None. Only an idiot could write this".

Whereas I think this book is actually very clever, really enjoyed all of the characters, especially the philosophical musings of the urchins, and Tanya's scribbles. I'll definitely look out for more from this author.

And I so wanted there to be a real All-Russian All-Cosmopolitan City museum.
Jul 12, 2014 Lizixer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's not you, it's probably me Gina but I struggled to finish this book. Although weirdly I liked it while I was reading it once I laid it down, I didn't rush to pick it up again.

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GINA OCHSNER is the author of two collections of short stories, People I Wanted to Be and The Necessary Grace to Fall, both of which won the Oregon Book Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, and others. She is a recipient of the Flannery OConnor Award, the Ruth Hindman Foundation Prize, Guggenheim and NEA Grants, and the Raymond Carve ...more
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