At the end of March of 2022, I travelled to the Ukrainian-Polish border to volunteer at a refugee evacuation centre. Much as I tried to prepare myself psychologically, what I encountered face-to-face didn't fit any of my expectations: I saw a disaster on a massive scale.  I went to volunteer as someone who speaks Russian, Ukrainian and other languages; someone who had been a refugee herself. I soon realized that what the Ukrainian refugees needed most (apart from practical advice) was to talk about their experiences. They needed to be heard.

Expulsion & Other Stories consists of two parts: a novella followed by a group of short stories. But the main protagonists have one thing in common: they are all women coming of age in difficult times. In the short stories, set in post-Stalinist Russia, the women are confronted by dictatorship's mundane face - a minor bureaucrat, a school teacher, a doctor. Nobody spells out the rules of survival to the young girls and women, yet each learns to play - or pays the price, that of facing “expulsion”. The novella “Face” shares a similar motif of expulsion but takes the reader to a different place - the urban sprawl and property greed of modern Vancouver.

Have you ever wondered what may happen to the First Violin once it tiptoes out of the orchestra pit in search of adventures? This original story continues the classical tradition of European fairy tales beloved by many generations of children. And just as Andersen's fairy tales were not written for children alone, so, we hope, this story will speak to the child and the adult alike.


The original artwork was done in the traditional technique of medieval illumination with gold leaf applied on velum. The illustrations and the decorative capitals are like miniature jewels, glittering and glowing with inner, lambent light, lightening up the magic lantern of out imagination.



In the village of Merry Limp, Aunt Zina runs a butcher shop. On Sinew Monday, only sinews are sold. On Bone Tuesday, the populace can buy bones; and so on for the rest of the week. Tus Marina Sonkina lays the groundwork for a surreal satire on Stalin’s USSR. Seen through the eyes of the eleven year old Natasha, the story unfolds in a mad procession of events, incongruous characters, party meetings and slogans. We encounter railway workers, officials and party leaders all the way to characters like Beria and Stalin himself. Audaciously using grotesque as her method of description, Sonkina resurrects the fears, the cruelty and the absurdity of people’s lives under Stalin. As all good satire, “Comrade Stalin’s Baby Tooth” puts a reflective mirror to the past, warning us about the future. The book, illustrated with colour propaganda posters of the period, is presented in the manner of an official document from the KGB files.

The resistance of the human spirit in face of time, disloyalty, and oblivion is the theme of Marina Sonkina’s new collection of short stories. Her seemingly naïve and helpless protagonists inhabit disparate social stations, geographical locales and cultures. But in their struggles for survival, they discover the redeeming and dangerous power of unconditional love – the only weapon available to them. Strange and incomprehensible to everyone, love makes its sudden appearance to an eight-year-old hunchbacked boy in the title story of Lucia’s Eyes. As he brings the gifts of his artistic imagination to Lucia, a refugee from the Spanish Civil War, the bleak and cruel reality of Stalin’s Russia dissolves into magic … In “Carmelita” an aging man from Winnipeg, vacationing in Mexico, falls in love with a young Mexican painter. In “Christmas Tango” a jobless drifter in snowy Montreal discovers tango, inadvertently transforming his own life and the lives of those who come in contact with him. In “Angels Ascending and Descending” a young girl is initiated into the mysterious symbolism of Russian Orthodox church architecture by a priestly man who hardly lives up to the spiritual heights he preaches. Full of unexpected turns and twists, sadness, joy and humour, these stories reflect life, itself always a surprise, and always a miracle.

Marina Sonkina’s stories give us unexpected characters in surreal situations presented with unflinching verisimilitude in prose that is at once forceful, lyrical and filled with skepticism.  We follow an old woman through the Gorbachev days of perestroika in Moscow into a rose-tinted abyss. A philandering Parisian American linguist married to a Belgian tapestry weaver conducts an affair on the Pacific Coast of America and discovers that the only human being he can love is a blind boy. A Californian flower-child swings her mini-skirted hips through an island ashram in the Bahamas – because she can, to demonstrate the healing power of (free) love, and without the slightest idea of the upheaval she causes. In Stalinist Moscow, a woman gives birth in a hospital Franz Kafka and George Orwell would both sadly recognize as all too real.

This is not the stuff of European fiction, nor of the multicultural mainstream in North American post–20th century writing. This is more like Mavis Gallant in reverse, a shrewdly observant fictive sensibility self-transplanted to the New World from the old. The fact that English is Sonkina’s most recent language (after Russian, Italian, and French) gives her writing the linguistic piquancy of a fusion cuisine. These stories don’t taste like borscht or pea soup. They taste like fillets of elk in a hot paprika sauce.



These four stories display a masterly range of emotional tones, from mordant wit to sheer lyricism. Marina Sonkina’s characters rise from the page to become people we know and understand, although they live at widely distant points of the compass, spiritual and geographical. It’s clear that she loves them all, with a passion that forgives their weaknesses.  In the title story a painter plants a tree that, as it grows, awakens memories of a lost love. The tragic lives of a family during the Stalin era in the Soviet Union are followed through the story of a suitcase in “Bird’s Milk.”  All of these stories reflect Sonkina’s erudition, skill and versatility. She is a writer to treasure; she tells memorable tales in succulent, satisfying prose, and the elegance of this book’s production serves its contents well.

If you were a snail, would you aspire to become an Olympic Champion in Running? That was Snail Gail's one burning desire. But no matter what tricks crafty Gail would come up with, she remained but an ordinary VERY SLOW snail. Until one day she met a Stone Man with an army of his magic crickets. And then things began to spin. What happened to snail Gail? All you need is to open this book for the magic to begin!


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