"All the vodka wouldn’t fit in the fridge. First I tried standing the bottles up, and then I laid them on their sides, one on top of the other. The bottles stacked up like transparent fish."
The staccato beginning and spare prose of Andrei Gelasimov's slender yet thought provoking novel, Thirst, is reminiscent of Camus' iconic and emotionally removed opening line of The Stranger: "Maman died today." Yet these two works are immediately different in their world views: whereas Camus’ narrator Meursault lives emotionally untouched by the events happening around him, Gelasimov’s Kostya, a young soldier maimed beyond recognition in a tank explosion, is so deeply haunted by his past and affected by his new identity in the present, that he can only find solace in vodka…lots of vodka.
That is, until his attention is turned elsewhere.
When two army buddies show up at his door, Kostya is mobilized to help them find their missing friend, Seryoga, the soldier who saved them all from their burning tank. As they comb the streets of Moscow searching for Seryoga, Kostya combs through his childhood memories of growing up in the city, and images of the war. As he extracts these memories and makes new connections with his estranged family, Kostya slowly rebuilds his image of himself, even though outwardly, his appearance has been so drastically altered by the scars of war.
As he reconstructs his shattered identity from the inside out, others also begin to recognize him for who he really is. Even the little boy next door confides in Kostya:
"I know." "What is it that you know?" "I know I know." "What is it that you know you know?" "That you’re not scary. You just have that face."
The author himself confesses in a Q&A with Amazon that he wrote the book for the generations "doomed to redeem sins they never committed." Read on this level, Andrei Gelasimov's Thirst is an elegantly written rumination on how an individual's (or a country's, a generation's) outward face, does not always reflect one's true self.--Sarah Tomashek