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Keeping It Easy

AST Publishing House, September 2011
Elena Kotova’s novel «Keeping It Easy» is about the free and achieving people of the modern global world — an English top-manager John, a Russian business-woman Anna and a German career politician Helmut — whose travels around the globe, philosophical debates, playing with each other and a difficult pursuit of true love stretch across the world — from New York and London to Berlin and Moscow. Life sends them the bill in Florence...

The German Embassy was packed. Anna noticed quite a few curious glances from people around. She would have been getting them, even if she were here alone –dressed to kill. But besides that she also had this gorgeous man on her arm. They took champagne glasses, when a couple from Switzerland approached them.

After the usual greetings, Anna could not think of a topic to talk about and when the Swiss couple asked John why mobile phones don’t work in the tube, Anna almost laughed. But John answered the question seriously and said something witty, and the three of them got into a lively conversation. Shortly a gray hair American colleague of Anna joined them. John was the center of their circle to Anna’s delight. 

Then yet another colleague came and introduced his girlfriend Maria. Thecircle was growing bigger, and John was its center.

Maria soon pulled Anna aside to have a girls’ talk, when they were back, the group was twice larger, was the biggest and the loudest at this reception. Others glanced at them with some envy. John kept holding the conversation, he emanated charm, and crumbles of his glory were dropping on Anna. This is John, he’s with Anna, somebody would say when a newcomer joined the group.

“You are extraordinary, not me,” she said when they left. “You have fantastic empathy for people.”

“I just can talk to anybody about anything. Don’t forget, I am a salesman.”

“It’s much more than that. You radiated genuine interest in people. They felt this immediately therefore they wanted to stay longer with you.”

“I have told you you’re a bloody lucky girl to get me.”

But I have not got you. And I never will, Anna thought, for the first time feeling pain.

Then was the night so full of that languishing tenderness. After the night came the morning, and John, also for the first time, was so sad, when leaving. Having closed the door behind him, Anna looked in a mirror and said to her reflection:

“You! Do you want your heart to be broken again?”

John also couldn’t stop thinking that it was getting ever more complicated and intense. Anna was no longer a toy for him, she had turned into a close and important person, and it scared him. They still, of course, indulged themselves in this game for two skilled partners, but it was no longer just fun, but a genuine fondness, which was not part of the plan. He sometimes even asked himself what was missing in his relationship with his wife, and these thoughts were clearly destructive.

John called Anna, when she went on business trips to Moscow, worried, if she was fine, if she had a good sleep. He felt the urge of caring about her, and he was often forgetting that it was Audrey, whom he ought to care about. He was waiting for the weekend in Edinburgh with no excitement, rather with disdain, and though he was always having good time at these usual gatherings, he felt a bit of guilt, that Anna was alone, while he was having fun, and maybe felt low. All small disagreements with Audrey triggered arguments and annoyance from both sides. He felt that the situation was getting out of his control, and that he must not let it go this way. He started to limit himself in calling and texting Anna, just not to escalate the intensity of their relationship.

The revelation that she actually wanted the whole John, not just a part of him, had upset Anna. It was impossible even to think like this, she knew well, that she must not, this was not a part of either his or her plan. It only could turn the present magic game, which brought so much joy into hard and unrewarding work, which was bound to kill the joy.

Anna was like swimming against the current which was getting stronger with every passing day. They both struggled with the current for the sake of protecting what they had created. Two adults were struggling to keep their growing love within the limits, which they had once established.

It had all started at this stupid German reception. People who talked to them had no doubts that they belonged to each other, were a couple. And they have become a couple although they never intended to…

Book reviews
Reader comments
17.10.2011. «Оgonyok» Magazine: «A Bearable Lightness of Being», №41 (5200)
....even though Danton taught us that you can’t carry away your country on the soles of your shoes, we now see that you can bring globalization back to your country on those self-same soles. The characters in «Keeping It Easy» prove that by moving ceaselessly through relationships and cities, blithely confident that the success they have achieved in their careers will be easy to replicate in their personal lives. This novel seems to be Kotova’s initial calling-card, given that her personal experience of globalization could provide material for many more novels to come.
07.11.2011. «Russian Reporter»: Books of the week
...for those who love “novels-with-a-passkey: Kotova, ex-director for Russia at the EBRD describes her colleagues and partners in her book....
Yury Polyakov, prominent Russian writer
High society novels and stories portraying life of the upper classes were fashionable reading in XIX- century Russia. This genre had its own classics, e.g. Earl Sollogoub. In the XX century, after the revolution, high society literature had obviously disappeared, its echoes can be traced only in the works of the emigrants. Today «high society» prose reappears, and Elena Kotova’s book «Keeping It Easy!» («Legko!») is the proof. The novel is written vividly, in bright and clear language, with deep knowledge of the subject matter. Those interested to know how the present high society Russians live, how they travel, how they «burn» serious money and burn with true love, those will read this piece with interest. Those suffering from attacks of social envy may do better to refrain
Samvel Ovetisyan, a widely known in narrow circles connoiseur of the fine and the beauty
It looks like Elena has set a new theme in contemporary literature – about global Russians, although I hate this word. More precisely – about mobile Russians who have turned in the world citizens, went beyond the limits of their native culture and yet remain its part
Book reviews
17.10.2011. «Оgonyok» Magazine: «A Bearable Lightness of Being», №41 (5200)
....even though Danton taught us that you can’t carry away your country on the soles of your shoes, we now see that you can bring globalization back to your country on those self-same soles. The characters in «Keeping It Easy» prove that by moving ceaselessly through relationships and cities, blithely confident that the success they have achieved in their careers will be easy to replicate in their personal lives. This novel seems to be Kotova’s initial calling-card, given that her personal experience of globalization could provide material for many more novels to come.
Reader comments
Yury Polyakov, prominent Russian writer
High society novels and stories portraying life of the upper classes were fashionable reading in XIX- century Russia. This genre had its own classics, e.g. Earl Sollogoub. In the XX century, after the revolution, high society literature had obviously disappeared, its echoes can be traced only in the works of the emigrants. Today «high society» prose reappears, and Elena Kotova’s book «Keeping It Easy!» («Legko!») is the proof. The novel is written vividly, in bright and clear language, with deep knowledge of the subject matter. Those interested to know how the present high society Russians live, how they travel, how they «burn» serious money and burn with true love, those will read this piece with interest. Those suffering from attacks of social envy may do better to refrain
Samvel Ovetisyan, a widely known in narrow circles connoiseur of the fine and the beauty
It looks like Elena has set a new theme in contemporary literature – about global Russians, although I hate this word. More precisely – about mobile Russians who have turned in the world citizens, went beyond the limits of their native culture and yet remain its part
Half-life

Half-life

VECHE, December 2014
The novel “Half-life” (2014) is already appreciated by the reader, who perceive it to be a story about “Gone with the Wind. From Tambov to Long-Island”. All names are real, and all characters are fictional. Very unorthodox and provocative story. The characters inhabiting this unorthodox novel by the Russian-American author Elena Kotova are real, actual people, some of whom have been well-known in the past (Commissar Ordzhonikidze, composer Khachaturian, violinist Oistrakh, US Ambassador to the Soviet Union W. A. Harriman), and are well-known in the present (Mayor Luzhkov, tycoons Khodorkovsky and Gusinsky, Central Bank chair Gerashchenko). We begin the story on the first day of the twentieth century in the city of Tambov, where a noble family is raising seven brothers and sisters; and we end the story on the first day of the twenty-first century, among the skyscrapers of New York, home to two distant fifth-generation cousins of the same family who barely know each other. In between these two moments in time we live through unexpected twists of fate, we settle into the warmth of family routine, we suffer through internal family conflicts and external tragedies, we witness how the family copes with the inevitable half-lifes of each generation, which divide the family into the “before” and the “after”. Many questions haunt us throughout the novel, and the one which is the most poignant to the contemporary reader is how does this family's story, begun in the idyllic setting of a noble life in provincial Tambov, end on the shores of the New World. The new book by Elena Kotova is indeed the novel of the century, a courageous work of art built around real-life events and people.