Vanya Says, “Go!” - A Retelling of Mikhail Kuzmin’s ‘Wings’
Author: Wayne Goodman
Release Date: October 20th 2016
Genre: Retelling, Gay Fiction
In 1906, Mikhail Kuzmin published "Wings," the first book in Russian to discuss same-sex relationships in a positive light. With "Vanya Says, ‘Go!,’" Wayne Goodman retells the story from the perspective of the young man at the heart of the tale. The original work contained only three sections, but a fourth has been added to round out the story and provide some closure.
Kuzmin was one of the most celebrated poets of his time, the Silver Age of Russian Poetry. While his poems were quite successful, his somewhat-autobiographical novel "Wings" met with skepticism and criticism. Kuzmin used many constructs from poetry (characters who appear all too briefly with no second mention, plot jumps with little connecting material, long-winded orations); however, his descriptions of scenery are exquisite, and the dialogue is quirky and colorful. "Vanya Says, 'Go!'" is crafted for the modern reader while keeping much of the original Russian style. It is a window into a time and places long gone. The story is narrated by the main character, who at 16 years of age is dealing with being an orphan foisted off on friends of distant relatives and attempting to acquaint himself with his sexual orientation while also discovering various religious and philosophical frameworks.
"An exemplary study in classic Russian literary charm... with a choice cast of picaresque characters. Goodman draws the reader into the desperate historical moment of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, and artfully stages Vanya's gay yearnings against its fast-moving currents." -- Edmund Zagorin
"The author accurately evokes a long-lost Russia through his marvelous characters and descriptions... the underlying commentary on the decaying social order, and the romance of that forgotten time period." -- Andrew Demcak
"Set in Old Russia... this is an interesting, fact-based story of an orphaned gay youth and his attempt to find himself, his own opinions, and love." -- Daniel Curzon
Watch Wayne Goodman read from Vanya Says “Go!” on Facebook
Stroop glanced down at my lap, “What’s that? Homer?”
“Yes. The Greek class is especially awful.”
“You mean you don’t like Greek?” His sparkling eyes returned to mine, and an invisible shiver pulsed through me.
“Who really likes Greek?” I said, feeling a bit foolish about that sarcastic remark. It made me sound pretentious, but, then again, I probably was for only 16 years of age.
The corner of Stroop’s mouth flinched, “That’s a pity.”
“That you don’t like languages,” he responded coolly, lips pouting slightly, his goatee jutting forward. “I have nothing against modern languages–you can read just about anything–but who would want to struggle with such antediluvian nonsense in Greek?”
I could feel Stroop’s eyes examining me. “What a boy you are, Vanya. The whole world–worlds are closed to you.” He looked away and then back at me, “Though a world of beauty–not just to know, but to love. It is the basis of all education.”
“But if I wanted to learn about that, I could read translated works. Why must we spend so much time learning their obsolete grammar?”
His head dropped and shook gently from side to side. I felt like I had just impaled him with a rusty pin.
“Instead of a person of flesh and blood, laughing or frowning, who can love, kiss, or hate–which one can detect in the blood surging through their veins, and the natural grace of a naked body–we are like soulless dolls, often made by artisan hands. That… that is translated. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time with a preparatory lesson on grammar.” He turned to face me. “The only requirement? Read, read, and read. Read–looking up every word in the dictionary–like you’re wading through a thicket in the forest, and you would find untried delights. And it seems to me, Vanya, that you have the makings to become such a new, authentic person.”
I just stared at this very attractive man with my jaw hanging, probably looking like an open samovar. I believed he was trying to tell me I shouldn’t shirk my language studies and that if I read enough books, I could become a better person. No one had ever given me such encouragement before. If it hadn’t been improper to do so, I would have leaned over and kissed him on his palpable lips.
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About the Author
Wayne Goodman has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of his life (with too many cats). When not writing, he enjoys playing Gilded Age parlor music on the piano, with an emphasis on women, gay, and Black composers.