Julia Kissina

Elephantina‘s Moscow Years - Novel

Original Russian title: Элефантина, или Кораблекрушенция Достоевцева
(German title: Elephantinas Moskauer Jahre)
ca. 240 pages
Julia Kissina
Foto: Julia Kissina
© Alan Kaufman

Julia Kissina was born in 1966 in Kiev, Ukraine and studied dramatic writing at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, also known as VGIK. A political refugee, she immigrated to Germany in 1990, where she later graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. As a Visiting Professor of Photography, she taught at the Karlsruhe University of Art and Design as well as The Rodchenko Art School in Moscow. Julia Kissina lives in Berlin and New York City.

A longtime member of the Moscow Conceptualist movement and one of the best known authors of Russian literary avant-garde, Kissina had been a regular contributor to the two of Russia's most Intellectual literature journals, Obscuri Viri and Mitin Journal. Her début short novel Of the Dove’s Flight Over the Mud of Phobia (1992), became a cult hit of Samizdat. Kissina’s poetry and prose subsequently appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the much-translated anthology of modern Russian literature, Russian Flowers of Evil (1997). Her first collection of stories in German Vergiss Tarantino (Forget Tarantino) was published in 2005, the same year as her children’s book Milin und der Zauberstift (Milin and the Magic Pen). Her style, characterized by whimsical humor, precise observations of social conflicts and a distinct sense of the absurd, can be described as auto-fictional fabulism. An essential theme of her work is civilization and its discontents. Despite intertextual experiments with words and subjects, her books are intricately plotted. Her  novel Frühling auf dem Mond (2013, Springtime on the Moon) draws from her childhood in the 1970s Kiev, exploring the tragic dynamic between surreal perception and bureaucratic despotism. Written in a similar style, her novel Elephantinas Moskauer Jahre (2016, Elephantina’s Moscow Years) is a coming-of-age story about a young woman who moves to Moscow to explore the depths of the artistic underground in search of true poetry.

Julia Kissina is also known as a visual artist, having devoted herself to conceptual photography in the 1990s. In 2000, she herded an actual flock of sheep into the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt as part of a performance. She also co-curated the Art & Crime Festival at the Hebbel Theater, Berlin, in 2003 and performed in a German prison. In 2006 Julia Kissina created The Dead Artist’s Society, which held séances to conduct Dialogues with Classic Artists such as Duchamp and Malevich.

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Gripped by the desire to lead the free life of an artist, young Elephantina follows her idol to the catacombs of Moscow. The red-faced poetry guru Pomidor, a man in the prime of his life, famous thinker of the avant-garde, has called her the »new Akhmatova«. Forget about provincial Kiev, about boring art school.

Wandering from one sleeping place to the next, through train stations, theatre cloakrooms, and museums, the nomad dressed like a nun finds an apartment that she soon transforms into an artists’ colony. Poetry readings in overcrowded student bars with KGB-informants in the back, forbidden art happenings in Moscow and its surroundings, meeting Allen Ginsberg, a summons from the KGB – yet all of that is only the setting for Elephantina’s yearning for Pomidor.


An éducation sentimentale in powerful colours, rich in episodes and full of esprit and laughter.


»Julia Kissina herself is a marvellous hybrid creature: internationally acting artist with an œuvre of installations, photography and performances on the one hand and one of the most unconventional contemporary Russian writers on the other. [...] Her literary archeology of late socialism seems not at all reactionary but highly topical, as it does with Esterházy, Cărtărescu or Tellkamp: because it’s the influences and mentalities of that time that cause the grotesques and tragedies in the Eastern European present.« Alexander Camman, Die ZEIT

»Elephantina‘s Moskow Years is a veritable inferno of a novel: smart, funny, imaginative, with powerful scenes.« Meike Fessmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»There is hardly another book that illuminates the connexion of tyranny and subversion, of submission and autonomy, better than this novel.« Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»Fantastical, wonderfully over the top, comical episode.« ZEIT ONLINE 

»Kissina breaks open metaphors and puts them together anew, so that you have to laugh out loud or marvel at the sheer originality of it. [...] The colorful, grotesque, poetic images of «Elephantina» do not portray the well-known Moscow of the eighties, but evoke something quite different: a wild, anarchic counterculture.« Elisa von Hof, Berliner Morgenpost

»Her unflinching will to see grotesque in the ugly, the supernatural in beauty, and the thread of the absurd running through it all, is a victory over the hardness of reality. That is what art, every art, can do. But it is rarely shown as inspiringly as here.« Katharina Granzin, Frankfurter Rundschau

»The language in Elephantina‘s Moskow Years is delicious!« MUROMEZ

»A true odyssey through the cold and strange city – James Joyce could not have described it more radically or more closely. Julia Kissina's language is a linguistic firework. It does not bore for a single moment, and despite the often bitter gutter story, a defiant humor flourishes throughout.« Barbara Raudszus, EGOTRIP

»Elephantina’s Moscow Years positively bubbles over with storytelling skill. Julia Kissina is a world-class storyteller.« Susann Fleischer, literaturmarkt.info

»Julia Kissina knows her subject, and tells her story laconically and artfully all the while juggling amusing descriptions, hyperbole, and metaphors.« Daniela Chmelik, Missy Magazine