St petersburg

My summer of love with God’s gift

When the author and podcaster Viv Groskop first visited Ukraine, she travelled there from Moscow, on a long train that ran eventually beside a field of sunflowers. They were, she recalls in her lovely and modestly scaled memoir, like a ‘blast of sunshine screaming: “Welcome to Ukraine! You are no longer in Russia!”’ The year was 1994, and Groskop had been in the former USSR for a little under a year. A modern languages undergraduate at Cambridge, she had decided to take her year abroad in St Petersburg. Until she got there, she had barely thought of Ukraine. It was one of a bunch of newly independent states; it hadn’t

Short and sweet: Xstabeth, by David Keenan, reviewed

Aneliya, the Russian narrator of David Keenan’s enjoyably weird new novel, is worried about her dad. Tomasz’s modest music career is coming to an end; his wife left him years ago, and he lives in the shadow of his louche and much more successful best friend Jaco. ‘The famouser musician’ pulls some strings to get Tomasz one last gig, as a favour to Aneliya, with whom he is having a secret affair. Tomasz has a stinker in front of 20 people. An audio sample from his performance subsequently turns up on an obscure LP released under the mysterious moniker Xstabeth. The track is hailed in underground circles as a work