Losing Control of the Narrative in A Volga Tale

Losing Control of the Narrative in A Volga Tale
Could he not change this plot–and liberate Klara from her captivity? Could this be a form of tribute to his beloved? Could he not in this way atone for even a small part of his guilt?
(Yakhina, 209)
I thought of who it is whose story gets remembered in the end /
And through how many careful tellings does once practice their defense.
Some nuances the narrator selectively omits /
A once collective memory is destined to forget.
(Nana Grizol, "Explained Away")

This post will speak at length about the plot of Guzel Yakhina's A Volga Tale, so proceed with that knowledge, read the novel first (affiliate link), and/or listen to our podcasts on it.

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Our stories become us. 

It always happens after we die, of course. No longer able to make new memories, my late grandparents now only breathe life when someone says, “remember when grandpa started pickling an entire barrel of…” and so on and so forth. 

Sometimes those stories are real, sometimes they’re embellished, and sometimes they’re fabricated misrememberings. I find the latter two tend to overtake the former with time. Et voila: a new person is born. 

That’s just how I remember my own grandfather, Anthony, a thin-haired, deep-voiced man who could always be found in his office recliner. 

By the time I was old enough to wonder about him, he was already senile. 

So I learned his stories indirectly. From my grandmother, from my mom, from his four other children. They often contradicted each other, gave differing accounts of his temperament or inconsistent reports of what he was doing in such-and-such year. 

So the version of my grandfather who lived in my mind was entirely made up of the stories told about him. 

Then he died. The stories are all that remain.