Liza Alexandrova-Zorina was born in 1984 in a little town on Cola Peninsula beyond the Arctic Circle (the setting of her prize-winning novel The Little Man). After school graduation she left her native town for Moscow where she soon became a prolific journalist, film-maker, popular columnist on leading opposition periodicals, and a public activist.
Liza was a finalist in two important literary competitions: Debut Prize and NOS (2012) with her novel The Little Man, and also won of the Northern Star Prize (2010) for her collection of short stories The Rebel. Her latest novels The Broken Doll and Man is a Noun have been published by Eksmo in 1916. Her books were published in French, English, Arabic, Hindi, Ukrainian, Estonian. The Little Man was published in English (GLAS).
Critics compared her writings to Dostoyevsky’s. “I put her novels on the same shelf as works by Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov.” – Martine Van Goubergen, critic, Brussels
“Liza is a fabulous writer. She has created an original universe which is typical of Russian literature.” – Bernard Werber
“Even though it's so dark, there's something that shines through as redeemable - perhaps it's just the ability to reveal the darkness for what it is without condoning it.” – Melanie Moore, translator of The Little Man
“Live dialogues, vivid imagery, striking metaphors. Colorful ethnographic details… Merciless and beautiful prose, pithy and precise, leaves no one unmoved…” – Book Review
“A frightening vision of Russia – this is how our young generation see their country. This is a novel of social protest written by a confident hand.” – Ex Libris
“Liza Alexandrova-Zorina sincerely feels for her weak and downtrodden characters, and her co – feeling for those unfortunates magically elevates them and ennobles her writing.”– SNOB
“The image of the ‘little man’ features in the works of Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, and Gorky. In Western literature this traditions is taken further by Camus, Beckett and Kafka. In other words, our Liza Alexandrova – Zorina is in good company which means that readers will expect her to live up to this level.” – Free Press
“Her writings reflect her active public position and social protest. She depicts the life of ‘redundant’ people who had failed to find a place in our society. These ‘humiliated and insulted’ individuals are nevertheless prepared to fight for their rights. Liza paints graphic pictures of squalid provinces, Moscow mafia, police lawlessness, and people’s helplessness in today’s Russia.” – ThankYou.ru
Man is a Noun
A novel. 300 pp. Eksmo, 2016
English excerpt available
This is a novel about the tragedy of being different in an indifferent and intolerant society, of being humble and introspective in the atmosphere of lawlessness. Traditionally for the author she is concerned with the Chekhovian theme of the “little man”, a meek person not aspiring to wealth and power and, therefore, helpless and vulnerable. Such people always have to bear blame for whatever goes wrong while the real culprits, if they are big and mighty, come clean and go unpunished. However, in the end the protagonist comes to the realization that every single person is guilty of something anyway.
The novel opens with a mysterious murder of a middle-aged woman Elsa whose hobby was spying on people from her window through her binoculars. The protagonist is a social worker on the staff of the local municipal service, whose job is to visit all sorts of oddballs and provide the first psychological aid to them. Very often his clients simply have no one to talk to rather than needing professional help. “As a social worker I had to deal with lonely old people, orphans, problem families, lunatics, disabled people, single mothers who threw receipts in my face as if I were the one responsible for their pitiful allowance, with women who imagined they’re being followed, and men expecting to be kidnapped by extra-terrestrials, - in short, all sorts of crackpots with hearts inside out, and lives upside down. What could I do for them? I needed help myself.”
At the age of 40 he had a minor stroke which left him with face blindness and hand tremor. Fearing dismissal he does his best to conceal his condition. From childhood he’s been a retiring person like his father who died at 40 from a stroke. His domineering mother despises him for being harmless and non-enterprising.
The protagonist (who is not named) is arrested as a suspect in Elsa’s murder whom he visited three days before. Elsa confided in him that she had seen some crime committed and was about to tell him about it, but his time was up and he left. She had been murdered before he came to see her again and hear all about it.
The man figures out who killed the poor prying woman: it was obviously for witnessing this big boss kill his wife and then declare her as missing. (Later he announces the return of his wife and although it’s obviously a different woman, everybody pretends not to notice it.) Elsa was planning to blackmail the boss and mentioned the incident to a few of her neighbors. The boss incriminates the modest social worker in the murder of Elsa, gets him imprisoned and through his stooges tries to persuade him to assume the blame for a price.
The investigation and the trial show how biased and corrupted the police and the judges are and how skillfully they juggle the evidence. As it turns out during the investigation the people who know the poor social worker all turn against him. No one is on his side. He is generally disliked for being different.
From the conversation of the accused with his lawyer:
“I think the prosecutor hates me”
“That’s his job.”
“What about the judge?”
“His sympathies are obviously not with you.”
“But I’m innocent.”
“I’ll be acquitted. I’m innocent.”
“Well, sonny, no one is innocent, we’re all guilty of something, punished or not.”
During his semi-delirious captivity the man recalls the various incidences when he could have helped a person but didn’t and his inactivity caused tragedy or even death. Like when he met a teenage girl who had run away from home because her violent stepfather threatened to kill her for the next bad mark. Nevertheless he took her back home and the next morning he heard about the murder of the girl. The bad mark was for a home task to define the following notions: man, people, country, authorities, law. Here are the girl’s answers:
“Man is a noun. People are inmates of our communal apartment. Country is a territory with some borders. Power belongs to those who have everything, and those who have no power are nobody. Law: each to his own.”
Confined in his solitary cell he can no longer distinguish between reality and hallucinations and his only occupation is to look back on his past life, trying to get at the roots of his ill luck: his failed marriages, lack of career growth, poverty, the start of face blindness. He is reliving his life in retrospect and is constantly talking to himself saying all those things he had intended to say to people but never did. His past life which seemed so dull at the time now appears as quite happy to him compared to his prison ordeals.
He reasons: “Some people compulsively think of the future all the time while others dream of the past, remodeling it as if they can change anything, they redraft it again and again reliving what other people had long put behind them and forgot about, and they keep re-interpreting people’s words and actions. I belong to the second breed, those who get bogged down in their past and move forward with back to front as it were.”
At some point he is transferred from his solitary cell to an overcrowded common cell where he is taunted, beaten and pushed around. He also hears all sorts of stories about how his inmates landed in prison, not all of them for real crimes.
As the trial approaches the protagonist feels increasingly guilty for his past passivity towards people he met and responsible for their misfortunes. During the trial everybody witnesses against him while the crucial facts in his favor are withheld. The accused feels psychologically crushed and doomed. When the time comes for his concluding statement he suddenly blurts out that he is guilty. He means in general, for living wrongly, but his words are taken literally, naturally. The real culprit is pleased thinking that it was due to his pressure and bribes that the desired verdict has been made and he is free from any guilt.