Join Maxim Osipov in conversation with Robert Chandler about his new book, Kilometer 101, a collection of eleven short stories and non-fiction essays written over fifteen years which demonstrate Osipov’s penetrating insight, fearless realism and stoic humanism in his approach to life in modern Russia. The publication has been edited by Boris Dralyuk and translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, and Alex Fleming.
Osipov’s book takes its title from a Soviet-era law stating that former convicts could live no closer than 101 km to a major city. Osipov’s great-grandfather ended up in a 101st-kilometre town, Tarusa, following his imprisonment on spurious accusations that he was plotting to kill Maxim Gorky. Osipov himself moved to Tarusa in 2005 to live and work as a cardiologist, and remained there until he fled last year via Armenia and Germany to avoid complicity in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
While written prior to the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it’s impossible to read Kilometer 101 in detachment from today’s context. Osipov brings alive the reality of life – or, rather, spiritual death – in Putin’s Russia. He questions how it is possible to anaesthetise oneself (often with alcohol, violence or apathy) against what is occurring around you without becoming a complicit part of the system, and how to continue some semblance of normal life while surrounded by senseless cruelty.
The themes of emigration, exile and the idea that life must be better elsewhere emerge throughout the book. We see the experience of those who left Russia for abroad; the internal emigration of those who retreated to the provinces either by choice or force, or headed to the big city in search of something better; and also a kind of self exile, an abandonment of oneself during hopeless times.
Despite the bleakness, Osipov illuminates the humanity, compassion and hope that do still exist under a crushing system. His sympathetic portraits of normal people’s lives, inspired by his work as a doctor in provincial communities, have a precision and honesty that have garnered comparisons to Chekhov.