Memoirs of a Muse
By Lara Vapnyar
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375422966, 224pp.)
Publication Date: April 4, 2006
List Price: $22.95*
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Lara Vapnyar, author of the prizewinning story collection There Are Jews in My House, brings us a poignant and comic first novel about a delightfully sincere modern-day muse. We meet Tanya as a typical Russian girl, living with her bookish professor mother in a drab Soviet apartment. As a teenager, Tanya becomes obsessed with Dostoevsky and settles on her life’s calling: she will be the companion to a great writer. Her memoirs tell of her immigration to New York after college, the stifling expectations of her Brighton Beach cousins, and the crucial moment in a bookshop on the Upper West Side, where Tanya attends a reading by Mark Schneider, a Significant New York Novelist.
Tanya soon moves in with Mark, ready to dazzle in bed, to serve and inspire . . . if only he would spend a little more time writing and a little less time at the gym, the shrink, and the literary soirees where she feels hopelessly unglamorous and out of place. But as she gradually learns to read English—struggling to better understand Mark’s work and her true role as Muse—Tanya also learns more than she expected about the destiny she has imagined for herself.
Animated by Vapnyar’s beguiling grace and vividness—with a narrative richness reflecting the great tradition of Russian realism to which she is a natural heir—Memoirs of a Muse is an altogether wonderful novel. It is a lively meditation on female capabilities and happiness, on the mysteries of artistic inspiration (and the absurdities of artistic life), and, perhaps most movingly, on the pain and wonder of the immigrant experience in New York City.
Lara Vapnyar emigrated from Russia in 1994. There Are Jews in My House was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and received the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker, among other publications. She lives on Staten Island with her husband and two children.