Transatlantic chase for money and love


By Michael Rymer

Sana Krasikov’s stories may never have a following on Wall Street, but they should. One character in her debut short-story collection, “One More Year” is a former Morgan Stanley quantitative analyst who returns to his native Moscow with the dream of earning millions in Russia’s fledgling mortgage industry; he plans to “pool and repackage cheap loans for investors in one massive turbine of debt and capital.” A character in another story is a salesman for an accounting firm who persuades “discount stores along the coast” to buy his firm’s barcode scanners and credit-card readers. In another story, a “dirty wealthy” tax software entrepreneur is the foil for a less prosperous computer programmer named Victor.

Krasikov grew up in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, but her parents moved to Katonah, New York when she was eight.She once aspired to work as a business reporter. But a brief post-collegiate stint working at a daily paper convinced her that she wasn’t suited to meeting frequent deadlines. In a recent interview at Two Boots in the East Village, she described her months at the paper, which she refused to name, as “a miserable experience.”

“I was taking way too long to write stories,” said Krasikov, 28. “If you’re getting that involved in anything you should probably just write fiction. I think it’s a sign.”

In 2003, Krasikov entered the Iowa Writers Workshop. Two years later, her first published story appeared in The New Yorker, just a few months after she received her M.F.A. (The story later received an O. Henry Award.) Her second, “Maia in Yonkers,” landed in the 2007 fiction issue of The Atlantic. These and other stories included in “One More Year” make it clear that when Krasikov left journalism she did not abandon writing about the ways money affects people’s lives.

For Ilona, the heroine of “Companion,” a lack of money leads to a baffling, comic turn in her life. She leaves Georgia for Westchester County three years before Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union, not in flight from war, but rather in pursuit of Alec, her best friend Taia’s husband, with whom she is having an affair. In America, Alec and Taia prosper, moving into a house “whose kitchen had floor-to-ceiling pantries, brushed stainless steel everything, and polished granite counters that [Taia] touched only when she was throwing a party” while Ilona, who was a nurse in Georgia, earns a low wage as a receptionist in a urologist’s office. She lives in the cramped home office of a former neighbor, Earl Brauer, who offered her the room when he saw her moving out and she confessed that she could no longer afford her own apartment. Though she does not pay rent, Ilona earns her keep by looking after Earl, a 70-year-old retired accountant: she trims his eyebrows, washes his dishes, and accompanies him to Delmonico’s, a local Italian restaurant whose waiters greet her as Mrs. Brauer.

A Wall Street Journal article about “Nanny Chains” employing women from Latin America to care for children in the U.S. was the seed for “Maia in Yonkers,” a tender narrative of a visit to New York by Maia’s teenaged son Gogi, who lives in Tbilsi. Gogi is sullen his first day with his mother, who works as a live-in caretaker for an elderly and demented woman in a Yonkers apartment that smells like her medicine. He strays from her on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and shouts at her on the ferry to Liberty Island. Then Maia asks Gogi what he’d like to do. His answer: “The Lion King.”

Other characters in Krasikov’s collection are wealthier but still preoccupied and controlled by money. Victor, the computer programmer, lives comfortably, but he’s deeply jealous of his rich friend, Alec. Grisha’s dreams of becoming a mortgage industry billionaire lead to the ruin of his marriage.

Still, Krasikov is at her best when writing about characters who are poor but surrounded by wealth – characters she traces to 19th century social novels by authors such as Dickens and Balzac. “I think there’s something about 19th century social novels, this social intelligence that these authors from a different era had and the way they saw people in terms of class,” said Krasikov, who peeled at the label of her Snapple bottle and gazed onto East Fourth Street as she formulated her thoughts. “When I started ‘Companion,’ I wondered how one of those heroines would read today. I wanted someone who still mingled with her wealthy friends but was not one of them.”

Krasikov has also been influenced by hearing stories about the struggles of people who stayed in Georgia after the Soviet collapse. She recalls a day in Katonah in 1992, when she was thirteen. She was sitting on her windowsill, reading “Gone with the Wind,” when she overheard her mother talking on the phone with a friend in Georgia, who told her mother about a kid there who was electrocuted while ripping down copper wires to sell as scrap metal. “I remember thinking: Oh my God, ‘Gone With the Wind’ is about the collapse of the Soviet Union.  

“You always want a story to be about more than just itself,” she said. “You want it to be about particular people but also the time they’re living in. I always gravitated toward fiction that carried the weight of history or social changes happening at the time,” said Krasikov, who has achieved this ideal in her first collection while creating characters who transcend their own time and place.