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‘The Red Corner’ wins novel award

My novel manuscript, The Red Corner, recently won the Hackney Literary Award, a $5,000 prize for an unpublished novel. Below is an excerpt that ran in The Great Lakes ReviewIt is set at a party at the lakeside mansion of a Russian mobster in suburban Chicago. (Also check out the opening chapters, an earlier version of which originally ran in Narrative magazine, here.)

Fingers

By Russell Working

Whore_of_Babylon

The day of Garik’s party, a warm front blew in, and Darya Vanderkloot’s sore throat disappeared. It was eighty-six along Lake Michigan, and most of staff of the Cherry Orchard Russian Deli & Productery worked in their shirt sleeves as they loaded the van with cases of wine, plastic bins of food, and coolers of salad, lox, deviled eggs, frozen pelmeni, cakes, sirloin. Like the others, Darya, wore her catering uniform: a white shirt, black bow tie, and baggy pants with a hound’s-tooth check pattern, but she kept an eye on Alexei. He cut a debonair figure, like a young celebrity chief, until he shrugged on a hoodie, despite the warm weather, and shouldered his backpack, transforming himself into a freebooter on a boarding raid. Everyone worked briskly, cheerful about the change in routine, but Alexei’s scowl kept the others at bay. He brushed right past Darya without hearing her hello.

“Hey, you!” she said.

He looked perplexed. “Oh, hi.”

“You all right?”

“Never better,” he said, then went back inside for another load.

They were catering a party for a new customer named Igor “Garik” Voskresensky, who had just shown up in the Cherry Orchard a few weeks ago. Eleven years ago, in Vladivostok, he had assassinated Alexei’s father, who was running for governor. Alexei had witnessed the murder as a child, and he immediately recognized the hit man. But now he was eighteen, and the disguise of adulthood held, while Garik had no idea who he was. Alexei and Darya had not been close, but he had chosen to confide in her for some reason. The boy was a loner, an amateur boxer and astronomy buff, and maybe he had no one else to talk to. Continue reading

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Beasts of the Eastern Wild

Valuev

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is now embodied in two boxers. Twitter users have been spreading a photo of Russian boxer Nikolai “Beast from the East” Valuev, the 7-foot-1, 320-pound former heavyweight champ, as he towers over a pro-Russian crowd outside a government building in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol, where gunmen seized the regional parliament.

“I arrived in Sevastopol to support residents of Crimea. Friends, Russia is with you!” Valuev wrote on Twitter.

Rival Vitali “Dr. Iron Fist” Klitschko, the 6-foot-7 Ukrainian who once called Valuev a “chicken,” is a parliamentarian who is part of the movement that toppled the government in Kiev last weekend. Calls for the two to duke it out are resounding across Twitter.

Back in 2004, when the Orange Revolution was underway in Kiev, I wrote a story on the support Klitschko was finding in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Ukrainian President Yanukovich, recently ousted again, was reviled by most Chicago Ukrainians (as he is now), and Klitchko’s World Boxing Council title match against British slugger Danny Williams symbolized something greater for the Ukrainian people.

The windows of Nikolai Baranovsky’s electronics shop on Chicago Avenue tell the story of two fights that have fired the imagination of Ukrainians around the world.

On one side is a poster of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, whose supporters have protested in Kiev to overturn the results of an election that was ruled fraudulent.

Nearby is a poster for Vitali Klitschko, a 6-foot-7 Ukrainian heavyweight who will defend his World Boxing Council title against British slugger Danny Williams in Las Vegas on Saturday.

On the streets of Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, Klitschko’s fight has taken on a deep symbolism in a time of renewed national pride–particularly since Klitschko, 33, is a backer of Yushchenko’s populist battle against the official winner, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. A new election will be held Dec. 26. …

In a conference call in 2004, Klitschko praised the street demonstrators and said he hoped his fight would inspire them and draw attention to Ukraine. As I wrote for the Trib:

Ukraine is struggling because the leaders who once were communists have changed their colors and now claim to be democratic, Vitali Klitschko told reporters. But their way of governing hasn’t changed, he said.

“That is why there are millions of people coming outside in the street to demonstrate peacefully,” the champion said. “Nobody drinks alcohol. It has been very peaceful. After every one of my fights in Ukraine, they hear me speak about freedom, liberty and free press, but now it is hopefully happening.”

This time around it wasn’t so peaceful, but Klitschko was part of the opposition in the parliament that unseated Yanukovych.

Valuev is widely regarded as a towering monster. Twitter users are scoffing at his Neanderthal appearance. But boxing promoter Trayce Zimmermann of Trayce ZPR offers a reminder that you can’t judge a boxer by his mug. (Politics, on the other hand, are fair game.) Trayce wrote to me on Facebook:

Valuev was quite misunderstood and often viewed as a freak. Very well read and educated, he was very shy, due, I think, to his gigantism. Always a devastating puncher and formidable simply because of his size, he had a good run as champion and KO’d Monte Barrett in the 11th round at the Allstate Arena in 2006. Don King (and I) did an extensive media tour here to promote the bout including a press conference at the top of the Sears Tower. “Two Giants.” DK tried for years to make a fight between his Russian and either Klitschko brother. I doubt Valuev would return to the ring now. He’s too smart and likely doesn’t need the money. Certainly, VK won’t ever fight again. He’s too busy fighting the biggest fight.

She adds that one of the few words Valuev knew in English was “Macy’s,” and he went shopping in suburban Oak Brook.

He loved to shop for his wife and kids. Clothes. Of course, he couldn’t find anything at all for himself. I felt sorry for him. People were always staring at him like a circus freak.

The world, and not just boxing fans, is interested in seeing how this fight ends.

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