If you're looking for a quick yet deeply satisfying read, check out "Grisha: The Scrivener" (Ghost Road Press, $15.95) by Forestville's Barbara Baer. In her new novella, Baer--whose own Floreant Press recently published "Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist's Exile from Eden" by Dr. Gregory Levin --handily tells the story of Grisha, an exiled, hard drinking yet surprisingly appealing Georgian journalist. Baer's briskly written tale begins in Tashkent, 1966--where Grisha works, though not by choice, and ends some 26 years later in Moscow.
?"I expect they?ll rewrite the history of our miserable Russian century any number of times and fortunately I won?t be around to read it. As it is, I don?t look at my own copy after I make my evening deadline. I take the damp first page off the presses to wrap my bread. Warm flat bread from the Alaisky Bazaar, that?s something to care about even with a smear of printer?s ink on the sesame seeds," Grisha muses about those oppressive years. "I didn't choose to live in Tashkent, though other zeks got it worse, exiled above the tree line, in the tundra, somewhere between Kazakhstan and the Amur River."
?Baer also lived in Tashkent in the late 1960s, where she taught American literature to Russians and Uzbeks in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, formerly US.S.R. Recently, I got a chance to ask Baer, who is a friend, about her writing habits and the motivations for creating her book.
?Sara Peyton: What was your inspiration for writing "Grisha: The Scrivener? How long did you work on it? And how did the novel change over time?
?Barbara Baer: I've been writing in my head and at typewriter then computer over 20 years. I published parts of it over the years; only knowing it was one long elegy when the man who was the inspiration for all the writing--the voice and the central character of Grisha--died during the Georgian civil war in 1992.
In life the real Grisha, whose name was Guivi, was such a trickster, such a bundle of contradictions, such an odd man and such a dishonest man, that he became my muse. He's not real-to-life anymore than any character is, but when he died I just couldn't let him die in my imagination. I read and reread the last letters he wrote to me in desperation during the civil war but I couldn't do anything to help him and that always stayed with me. So I gave him a longer life.
?SP: What are you working on now?
?BB: A three-generational novel, taking place in October of three decades, 1907, 1929 1937--the Octobers of financial crashes and political crises changing the lives of a German Jewish family somewhat like my own.
?SP: What are your writing habits?
?BB: Very bad. When I'm truly working on something I can put in many hours seated before desk or screen, but otherwise, I wander.
?SP: What advice do you give to writers about getting published?
?BB: It's very tough. Hope for luck and practice perseverance.
?SP: Many people think the book, as we know it today, is on the way out. The next wave may be digital books read on electronic devices. Do you agree or disagree and why?
BB: Reading good books not just for information but deeper meaning and understanding should be a pleasure; if you're a book reader, you'll keep turning pages, if you're a screen reader, you'll scroll forward, or whatever it takes, but the words will be there.