A Starred Review from Kirkus for HIDDEN LETTERS
Review - Publishers Weekly
- Kirkus Reviews
"Fractured hearts, ruined lives, shattered dreams—only the art of storytelling can hope to heal these in worn-ravaged Latvia. The difficulties of forgiveness lie at the heart of this beautifully spun tale. Inara lies on her deathbed, telling her son, Maris, the stories of their family, their village, and Latvian history in hopes that in the telling, the truth will be preserved. During the Soviet invasion of Latvia, Maris' paternal great-grandfather, Oskars, had been found with a Bible. Consequently banished to Siberia along with his wife and son, Oskars taught his son, Eriks, the family business: gravedigging. Similarly, Maris' maternal great-grandfather, Ferdinands, had been sent away to a work camp, and his wife, Velta, had written letters, such gorgeous letters, to him. Between mushroom hunting and fishing, Inara and her brother help keep the household afloat, yet they sneak off to search for Velta's letters, rumored to be hidden in the walls of the family's abandoned manor house. The neighbors, the Ilmyen family, are Jewish chess masters, and they fascinate Inara, who can only hope to approximate the romantic suffering of their lives. The Zetsches, a German-Latvian couple, begin snapping up all the prime property in town, including the cemetery. Ochsner (The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, 2010, etc.) bewitches the reader with layer upon layer of spellbinding storytelling: Velta's letters burst with folk tales and fables; Uncle Maris' fabulous inventions—from sloth-prevention bracelets to foul-tasting vitality elixirs—pale in comparison with his colorful insults, slung at Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians; Inara's own dreams are populated with drowned ghost girls, her fishing expeditions haunted by magical eels. Maris himself, like the uncle he was named for, sports enormous furry ears, the better to hear not only the whispers of the buried, but also the true heartaches lurking beneath his mother's confessions. An astonishing alchemy of history, romance, and fable."
Praise for The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight
Ken Kalfus - The New York Times
"Ochsner’s real focus is on the microcosm: How do individuals survive and even thrive in such settings? As the novel’s title suggests, dreams are important. “Without a dream,” says Olga, “we are dead.” From moment to moment, each of Ochsner’s characters pushes ever so slightly forward: in search of hope, in search of truth, in search of love. And, against all prediction, they find what they seek. Satirical yet never losing touch with deep emotion, Ochsner illuminates her forlorn characters with the same loving care with which Tanya creates her fake icons. “Like the subjects they depicted, these items were made of humble stock but in all ways suggested the divine.”
- The Boston Globe, Feb 28th 2010
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Kim Hedges - Star Tribune, Feb 10th 2010
Paul Constant - The Stranger, Feb 23 2010
- Town and Country, April 2010
This is one hell of a strange read - but in a good way. One part post-Soviet insanity to three parts magical realism, it demands that the reader...
Viv Groskop - The Guardian, Sunday, 15 March 2009
The cover illustration of Gina Ochsner's sparkling debut novel depicts a man flying among stars and snowflakes over a drab urban winter...
Kapka Kassabova - The Guardian, Saturday, 11 April 2009
Gina Ochsner's debut novel proves every bit as magical and engaging as her short-story collection, People I Wanted to Be...
Marianne Brace - The Independent, Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Praise for People I Wanted to Be
Over and over in this brightly eccentric collection, [Ochsner] dives gracefully off the deep end and heads for the realm of the unpredictable.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
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Elegantly unsettling fiction by Flannery O'Connor award winner Ochsner who charts some strange goings-on within emigrant communities……Eleven stories that possess restraint and edge: a powerful combination.
- Kirkus Reviews
Ochsner writes with such clarity and grace it seems ethereal….Ochsner's literary clothes are of the finest quality. They fit perfectly, they sparkle and dance, they both enhance the wearer and reveal the simplicity of inner being....For at their hearts, virtually all of Ochsner's stories are about the desire to connect, to not be alone…..Some things in this world can be perfect. Like a short story by Gina Ochsner.
- The Statesman Journal
In this offbeat, affecting follow-up to her debut collection, The Necessary Grace to Fall, Ochsner assembles a host of oddballs whose touchingly resilient hopes and small leaps of faith fly in the face of almost certain disappointment...Ochsner knows that vindication and inspiration often come from unlikely places, and she can capture this contradiction gorgeously in a gesture.
- Publisher’s Weekly
Ochsner's flawed, wholly sympathetic characters miraculously stumble into small moments, shaped with a delicious sense of the absurd, which connect them to a world that's magical, merciful, and infinite.
For those - among them some publishers - who regard short fiction as throat-clearing for the heroic task of the novel, the recent inauguration of the Small Wonder short story festival at Charleston, Sussex, and the...
- The Guardian
It's not that Gina Ochsner tells ghost stories. It's just that strange, occult phenomena crop up in her narratives at pivotal moments. Whether they are set in Eastern Europe or the Pacific Northwest...
- The New York Times
Ochsner uses the dead to inform us about the living. It sounds gruesome, but in this writer's hands the feeling you end up with is more akin to acceptance of the way life ends….. Her first collection, "The Necessary Grace to Fall," won the Flannery O'Connor award for short fiction. This latest work is another not to miss.
- Seattle Times
[Ochsner] has a lean, poetic style whose fatalism brings to mind Flannery O'Connor's....strange, poignant and deeply affecting stories.
- LA Times
This collection is best digested piece by lovely piece; taken as a whole, the glare of these shimmering gems could be blinding.
- Portland Mercury
An affecting second collection that examines the lives of societal outsiders with intriguing insights and touches of magic realism.
-Seattle Post Intelligencer
Ochsner's plots are imaginative and her musings provocative, especially when she steps back to call into question the wisdom that "suffering is the highest form of mercy." Ochsner is herself wise to recognize that it is the small mercies in life – those daily miracles that temper our suffering – that will truly save us. The trick is to be patient and alert enough to notice them, even when they turn up in the most unexpected of places.
- San Diego Union Tribune
I’ll be brief: You should buy this book. It is packed with greatness.
- The Stranger: Seattle’s Newspaper
For fans of wise, offbeat and unpretentious short fiction, the release of Gina Ochsner’s second collection is a cause for celebration. Not only has it been three years since the Flannery O’Connor Award winner’s had a new book out, but she’s also at the top of her game in these 11 stories. …. these stories are also kind, heartfelt, charming and unfailingly well-crafted.
- The Ruminator
Every story achieves a positive transformation and ends on a note of hope.
- Daily Mail
Beautiful and unsettling.
-Harpers & Queen
Fantastical yet deeply human stories.
- London Times
To such sparkling exponents of the [short story] form today as Edwidge Danticat, Ali Smith, Pauline Melville, Jhumpa Lahiri, Peter Ho Davies, David Bezmozgis and Aamer Hussein can be added Gina Ochsner.
- Guardian UK
Her intuitive and masterly handling of the genre is a force to be reckoned with.
- Times Literary Supplement
These are superior ghost stories, in which spirits or some other manifestation of the protagonists' anxieties pester and nag them until a lesson is learnt.
- The Guardian Review
a lot of imagination, has resulted in this extraordinary book of short stories....talented, innovative, chilling."
[a] collection of gems that can be read and re-read, giving up a different reaction and interpretation every time.
- Sunday Business Post
It’s easy to lose yourself in this unpredictable, inspiring collection... a beautiful, sensitive, frank book.
Ochsner's style is unusual, almost fable-like, very polished and she has imagination to spare.
This assured and humane collection is a pleasure to behold: here are stories full of unexpected grace, the strange sadness of beauty, and magical possibility -- tales rich with the quiet abundance of life.
-Chang Rae Lee, author of Aloft, A Gesture Life, and Native Speaker
Gina Ochsner's new collection of stories will be among the very best this year, or any other year for that matter. She manages, with almost every story, to capture our sundry human moments and make raw and unforgettable music of them.
-Colum McCann, author of Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Everything in This Country Must
Gina Oschner is the real deal-- a writer who knows some things and seen a lot, and fearlessly puts it all on the page. In an era when fewer people are writing short fiction, here is her second book of stories. These will make you grateful--for the joys of your own life, the skills of Gina Oschner, and the simple pleasure of reading.
-Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight, Out of the Woods, Kentucky Straight and The Same River Twice
Praise for The Necessary Grace to Fall
You know at once when you read a fiction writer who has the Big Gift. The world of the story is instantly real in a way that surprises you. The prose is instinctively and intensely sensual. The characters are full of yearning. The Necessary Grace to Fall has these qualities in abundance. Gina Ochsner unmistakably has the Big Gift.
-Robert Olen Butler, Good Scent From A Strange Mountain
These stories, from the Midland oilfields to post-Soviet Vilnius, are distinguished by loss, and by intractable yearning. It is Gina Ochsner's achievement to show with such sensitivity and range the various ways we continue to fail each other and ourselves. A moving and powerful debut.
- Ehud Havazelet, Like Never Before
Gina Ochsner writes with the delight and knowing of a born conjurer. Her world is that liminal space, that disconnect, between nature and our lives—heaven's winking outside the office window, grass pushing up around the casket, umbrellas opening like the great beating of wings.
-Carol Edgarian, Rise the Euphrates, The Writer’s Life
Gina Ochsner has given us a brave gift.
- Antiem Review
[Ochsner] is, to be fair, a breath-taking acrobat with image and metaphor, dexterous with point of view…She also reaches back to what matter most: myth, legend, and the healing power of storytelling.
- North Dakota Quarterly
Striking…Ochsner has created a distinctive collection.
- Arts and Letters
Ochsner has a knack for the simplest turns of phrase that make short fiction engaging in the first place.
- Virginia Quarterly Review
Ochsner is a skillful writer…she has a definite talent for eliciting a strong reaction from the reader… her collection makes for an unusual and though-provoking read.
- Sunday Gazette-Mail