I had already stopped translating, and we sat there silently, just watching the screen. I had a moment where it felt like an ordinary evening, like many we’d had in our life together, and we were just watching a trashy end-of-the-world movie with a slow-moving plot.

Vongozero, Jana Wagner

This little moment from Jana Wagner’s (so far excellent) first novel brought me back to September 11, 2001, in Krasnodar. I was an undergrad studying at Kuban State for a semester. I recall a bunch of us Americans piling into our professor’s apartment near KubSU, watching the horrifying events unfold on Russian state television.

Only a couple of us had good enough Russian to understand the quick speech of TV news, so we took turns translating for the others. It had exactly the surreal, cinematic quality that Wagner’s protagonist describes.

I highlighted the quote because it’s relatively uncommon for characters in these end-of-the-world novels and films to show any awareness that their situation recalls those of countless other zombie, natural disaster, and similar stories. I appreciated Anya’s moment of unreality in the midst of the epidemic.

Original text:

Я уже ничего не переводила, мы сидели молча и просто смотрели на экран, и на какое-то мгновение мне вдруг показалось, что это обычный вечер, каких уже было много в нашей жизни, и мы просто смотрим нудноватый фильм о конце света, в котором немного затянулась завязка сюжета.

«Вонгозеро», Яна Вагнер