Meet Red Hen’s Newest Author: An Interview with Artem Mozgovoy
In honor of the publication day of Spring in Siberia, Artem Mozogvoy’s debut novel, Red Hen is offering a peak into the author’s inspiration, frustrations, and motivations for the book.
A tender coming-of-age novel, Spring in Siberia follows young Alexey Morozov through 1985 Soviet Russia. His life changes when he falls in love with the son of a KGB agent, a love that clashes violently with the harsh world around them, and his story is further fraught by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and impinging Western capitalism. In Spring in Siberia, Mozgovoy explores the complex relationship between identity, homeland and literature, and glows with hope, even in the darkest of times.
Read on to learn about Mozgovoy’s writing process, current relationship with his homeland, and hopes for his novel.
Emily Morris: You’ve talked about the difficulty of finding a home for your book in American publishing houses. Can you talk about the experience of balancing your vision for the book and finding an audience?
Artem Mozgovoy: When I write I always make a maximal effort to liberate myself from any thoughts about publishing, promoting and selling what I write. In a way, I do the opposite of balancing — I allow myself to fall freely, hoping to spread the wings at the last moment and fly.
As for finding a publisher, I was quite shocked to discover that there’s a tall wall between the readers and the writers. Fifty gatekeepers rejected or ignored my manuscript before Stephen Fry read it and gave it a positive review. His comment served as the key to the very exclusive entrance into the Anglo-American publishing.
EM: What do you hope readers gain from your novel and your perspective on Russia?
AM: If my story helps some of the American readers to realise that there’s a whole world outside and under the US cold-hearted dominance, and that we — all citizens of the world — are in the same boat and in many ways responsible for each other, I’d be glad.
EM: Have recent events altered your relationship with your motherland and your own history?
AM: Not at all. This cowardly attack on Ukraine and all the atrocities that have followed only confirmed what I knew all my life: that Russia is a terrorist state and that Putin’s government is a criminal organisation. In fact, “Whisper of the Stars”, the second volume of “Spring in Siberia” (which I wrote together with the first in 2014), warns about just such a development.
The war made it nearly impossible, however, for me to visit my parents in Russia (I broke many of the most recent laws by now) while the Russian citizens are not welcome in the West any longer. As a result, I’m on my way to Uzbekistan right now, hoping to spend some time with my parents there.
EM: What was the experience of writing about your homeland from a far-removed country like?
AM: Strange but I feel like I could only write clearly about Russia from a distance. To see the full picture, one often needs to step back.
EM: Has writing and sharing this novel been cathartic for you?
AM: Absolutely. While writing it I kept being surprised by my own emotional reactions to the words that came out. Sitting on my own in that Venetian attic where I wrote the book, I often cried hysterically, uncontrollably. Like that scene where the protagonist’s mother tries in vain to explain to the boy that their house has sank into the coal mine — and his disbelief… Or the way Alexey and Andrey’s story ends…
EM: What are you currently reading? Where do you find your inspiration?
AM: I’ve just finished The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron, perhaps the best travel writer today. Like myself, Mr. Thubron seems to be only concerned with the real life and all its nearly incomprehensible complexities. This very incomprehensible-ness… I find that very inspiring.
Born and raised in a small town in Central Siberia at the time when the Soviet Union was falling apart, Artem Mozgovoy began his career as a cadet journalist in a local newspaper when he was sixteen; at twenty-six he was an editor-in-chief. In 2011, as Russia began legalizing its persecution of gay people, he left his homeland. Having lived in six different countries, including the US, and worked as a movie extra, a yoga instructor, and a magician’s assistant, Artem today holds a Luxembourgish passport, speaks five languages and, with his Romanian partner, lives in Belgium.