A Door Behind a Door
a novel by
“A Door Behind a Door is Yelena Moskovich’s third novel, her contribution to a venerable literary tradition of exploring Hell, with its telescoping time and scrambled geography, its thick atmosphere of mystery and violence—you are not off thinking about the world of David Lynch. It is a highly addictive book, unfolding in poetic little bursts that take up and stretch noirish crime fiction, the Russian literary inheritance, and surrealism."
—Michael Schapira, Full Stop Magazine
In Yelena Moskovich's spellbinding new novel, A Door Behind a Door, we meet Olga, who immigrates as part of the Soviet diaspora of ’91 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There she grows up and meets a girl and falls in love, beginning to believe that she can settle down. But a phone call from a bad man from her past brings to life a haunted childhood in an apartment building in the Soviet Union: an unexplained murder in her block, a supernatural stray dog, and the mystery of her beloved brother Moshe, who lost an eye and later vanished. We get pulled into Olga’s past as she puzzles her way through an underground Midwestern Russian mafia, in pursuit of a string of mathematical stabbings.
Read an essay by Yelena Moskovich on CrimeReads (May 21, 2021):
WHY CRIME FICTION IS THE PERFECT EXPRESSION OF SLAVIC MELANCHOLY
"Every Russian literary work is a crime novel"
BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion
If you’ve also read author Yelena Moskovich’s earlier novels, The Natashas and Virtuoso, what similarities or common themes did you notice? What differences?
Early on, the main character, Olga Bokuchava, says that she didn’t tell her girlfriend Angelina about a murder that had occurred during her childhood due to a “feeling of anachronistic dread.” How does that wording relate to other elements of this novel, and set the tone for the book?
The great Russian novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky — a dark tale of murder infused with philosophical, religious, and social commentary — is referenced and quoted in A Door Behind a Door. What connections do you see between the novels? Which characters experience punishment?
Quotes and imagery from “The Sail,” a famous poem by the Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov that many school children are asked to recite from memory, recur throughout the novel. After reading the poem, what connections can you make between the themes in it and themes in A Door Behind a Door?
Each of the sections in this novel start with an emboldened line that are sometimes part of the running text and at other times act as headers. What effect did the style have on your reading? Why do you think the author might have been inspired to use this technique?
In A Door Behind a Door, the author has written about queer characters and their lives. Discuss the characters' sexualities: What are their different obstacles? What relationships were unique, and in what ways? Do you think the exploration of “queerness” in this book goes beyond just the sexual?
In what ways does author Yelena Moskovich explore time and place in A Door Behind a Door? In an analysis of Moskovich’s previous novel Virtuoso for The Sociological Review, Clare Fisher considers the formation of queer time and space in the story through the lens of Halberstam, who has written the following; how does this enhance your reading of A Door Behind a Door?
“Queer Time is a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois production and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance. Queer Space refers to the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage and it also describes the new understandings of space enabled by the production of queer counterepublics.” (From In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives)
The theme of water: dampness, wetness, floods, drips, waves, and shades of the color blue, occur frequently throughout this novel. In what sections did you notice water-related descriptors? Why do you think the author chose to do this? How do the references to water tie in to the larger story?
In an essay published by The Calvert Journal (December 21, 2020) on the theme of home, author Yelena Moskovich wrote the following; considering the important role that religion plays in A Door Behind a Door, how does this insight about her family’s background further your reading of the novel?
My tongue otherwise is this: born in Soviet Ukraine, my family, Jewish mutts from Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, etc., live as “Jewish” nationals on their homeland, meaning that at the time, all Jews in the USSR were not considered natives of that territory. In my hand-written birth certificate, I am welcomed as: daughter of Jew and Jewess, nationality Jew, Yelena Valer’evna Moskovich. As all Jews, the adults are slighted, diminished, humiliated in the heartbreaking banality of the Soviet institution – access to work, school, cultural resources, and sense of humanity denied. Their kids, dark cursive faces, are collateral damage of the era.
Olga’s brother is named both Misha, which means “Who Is Like God?” and is of Russian origin, but renames himself Moshe, which has a meaning of “Drawn Out Of The Water” and is of Hebrew origin. In which parts of the novel does he use each of the names? What importance do you see in the difference of the names for this character? Considering the different scenes that he is in, how is adult Moshe’s character described? What do you think is the meaning behind his one eye?
One of the most recognizable symbols in Judaism is the Star of David, a six-pointed star. The star appears in two major forms: what are they? Where does Moshe tell Rémy he found the necklace? How are the intertwined stories connected through the symbol? What are your interpretations?
Numbers play an important part of this novel — one-two; once, twice, thrice; un, deux, trois; a recurring number 6; the frequent occurrence of a word or phrase repeated three times — what significance do you think this has? Nicky and Olga are both described as loving numbers, with Nicky even calling mathematics his paradise. In the ending pages of the section narrated by Nicky, we learn his motive for killing the woman on floor six; what parallels does this have to Olga?
How are themes of “family” and “home” explored in this novel? Which characters find a home and how? Which family relationships are strong or strained?
When do locks and keys appear? What are your interpretations of them?
What are the literal and figurative braids or twining that you noticed in A Door Behind a Door?
Lisette, a name meaning "God's Promise," plays an important role for many of the characters: what is it? How is she described?
How are the characters Angelina and Oksana similar? What good deeds do they do, and what are their fates?
Vaska — a Russian diminutive of the name Vasiliy, meaning ”Protector, Guardian” — is the mutt that young Nicky befriends. When Vaska is first introduced, what celestial words are used, and why do you think the author chose to do this? How does this fit in with larger themes of the novel? In the beginning of the main scenes that Vaska is in, what state is Nicky in? What role does the dog play?
What happens to Olga’s palms when she is in the jail? Who else has palms like this? The description of “open palms” occurs elsewhere throughout the novel. What significance do you think this has?
What do you think the meanings of “Fire and Ice” are? What elements are described as burning hot and ice cold? There is a famous poem by Robert Frost of this same name that discusses the end of the world, perishing twice, fire as desire, ice as hate: what connections do you see with the novel and the poem?
Early on, how does Nicky describe what a door behind a door is? How do Hell, America, the diner, and the jail fit into the story? What might each symbolize?
For Tanya Tarasova, her sexuality is very much a central issue and we see her displaying a range of mixed emotions: lesbian desire, homophobia, self-hate, an earnest wanting of love. Despite her bullying, there are moments when she is tender and vulnerable: when were they? What do you think the author’s intentions were with this character? Considering that Tanya frequently acts or speaks in violent ways, is full of anger and rage, and is hypersexual, what might this character represent? There are two distinct scenes where her voice changes: when are those instances? What might be the meaning behind jokes and laughter?
Which characters are dead and which are alive? How does this change at different parts of the story? Do you think the author is using a character’s “death” in the literal sense, or might these deaths have other meanings?
Sveta and Rémy do not remain in the story in the same way as the other characters. Why do you think that is? What did they have in common and how were they different from the other characters?
What other symbols or recurring actions did you notice throughout the novel, and what meanings do you think they might have?
On a blank piece of paper, write down this list of character names, cut them out, and then arrange them on a white board or large background paper with arrows and words explaining the various connections and relationships:
Old lady on Floor 6
DW Reviews "Pick of the Month" by Traci Kim
Watch the DW Reviews video of Traci Kim discussing Yelena Moskovich's novel A Door behind A Door on YouTube!
"Moskovich’s writing is sensory elevated and electric."
—Nathan Scott McNamara, BLOG // LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
(Read the full interview with Yelena Moskovich at BLARB)
"Moskovich draws on Clarice Lispector, Sophie Calle, and even Pauline Réage, as she moves around the page, the body, the world."
—Grace Lavery, BOMB Magazine
(Read the full conversation between authors Yelena Moskovich and Grace Lavery on BOMB)
"For some, this novel will be about the challenges of the double life of an immigrant, caught in a web between cultures. For others, it’s a fable of the American effect—the promise of a new life but the haunting of the one you’ve left behind... A Door Behind a Door can be read hundreds of times. The new discoveries and opportunities for interpretation won’t stop. And in the meantime, you’ll be maneuvering through prose so poetic and sharp that you’ll long to put the fragment in your pocket, to bring with you toward whatever new life emerges after the experience."
—Madeline Barbush, Independent Book Review (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Independent Book Review)
"The content and form of A Door Behind a Door are jarring at times, which is part of the point—nothing as dark, unexpected, and sexy as this should feel like anything other than a fever dream... Those who enjoy experimental forms, thought-provoking material, and a good thrill will delight in this haunting novel."
—Katya Buresh, Los Angeles Review of Books (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Los Angeles Review of Books)
"A Door Behind a Door is Yelena Moskovich’s third novel, her contribution to a venerable literary tradition of exploring Hell, with its telescoping time and scrambled geography, its thick atmosphere of mystery and violence—you are not off thinking about the world of David Lynch. It is a highly addictive book, unfolding in poetic little bursts that take up and stretch noirish crime fiction, the Russian literary inheritance, and surrealism."
—Michael Schapira, Full Stop Magazine (Read the full interview with Yelena Moskovich at Full Stop)
"The much-anticipated [book] from Moskovich is a novel that centers on Olga Bokuchava, who immigrates from the Soviet Union to Milwaukee with her family. Two separate acts of violence — a murder in her former apartment block and the subsequent accusation that her brother has stabbed a woman — collide when she is contacted by a man from her past who has information about both crimes. Part thriller and part narrative experiment, A Door Behind a Door is utterly unique."
—Wendy J. Fox, BuzzFeed "18 New Books From Small Presses That You Won't Want To Put Down"
"[A Door Behind a Door] is composed entirely of hundreds of brief, titled paragraphs, with the disjointed and often dreamlike narrative sowing confusion that reflects the characters’ psychological dislocation and conflicts around family, sexuality, and the uneasy relationship of the Soviet past and the American present. This is a difficult book, especially for someone like me who is not drawn to experimental writing. But Moskovich’s daring prose is a potent reminder that there are many ways to tell a story."
—Howard Freedman, The Jewish News of Northern California (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on The Jewish News of Northern California)
"Author Yelena Moskovich plays with pop culture, clichés, and language to explore everything from gender and queer desire to immigration, memory, nostalgia, and the impact of political historical events over individual lives... The poetic language, which brings an idiosyncrasy to each character and place, carries through the sense of alienation and sadness, love and desire, longing and unreliable memory."
—Anastasiia Fedorova, The Calvert Journal: (Read the full interview with author Yelena Moskovich on The Calvert Journal, 6/15/2021)
"A Door Behind A Door wrestles, and lyrically so, with questions of splintered moral conscience and spiritual crisis, while rooting itself in the molten geography of the body... Moskovich’s multi-layered novel speaks to mercy and salvation, on undisclosed terms, and the highest compliment I can pay to one of the most dynamic contemporary authors working in the field: She makes you happy to be a reader."
—John Biscello, Riot Material (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Riot Material)
"A phantasmagoria about immigration, death, and queer desire... A Door Behind a Door feels psychologically resonant even when its events swing thoroughly into the realm of the mystifying and fantastic... As tempting as it is to slot Moskovich’s fiction in with other works of the Soviet diaspora, the most salient feature of her work is its originality."
—Kat Solomon, Chicago Review of Books (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Chicago Review of Books)
"A Door Behind a Door is loose, dreamy, and symbol-packed... The resurfacing of characters from Olga’s past in her new city speaks to the theme of immigration in the novel, of new homes and the passage from old to new—a passage that is perhaps not ever fully complete in the sense that the past cannot be shaken."
—Marta Balcewicz, Ploughshares (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Ploughshares)
"[Yelena Moskovich] is without a doubt one of the best working writers today... she’s not simply engaging with the reader on an intellectual level, but also a subconscious emotional one."
—Joseph Edwin Haeger, The Big Smoke (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on The Big Smoke)
"A Door Behind A Door is a fitting title for such a layered work, one which is likely to have many interpretations as each reader explores the novel through a slightly different lens... Reading A Door Behind A Door is like pulling a loose string and watching the fabric slowly unravel … except it snags and snarls upon itself, looping back over, revisiting what you think you know with a new piece of information or from a different angle. Fear not, though, brave readers. If you are willing to take a leap into the unknown, the payoff is most assuredly there in Moskovich’s extraordinary writing."
—Beth Mowbray, The Nerd Daily (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on The Nerd Daily)
"A Door Behind A Door drips with mood and dread. It’s a novel inventive in form, with imagery you won’t forget any time soon... It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to reading a David Lynch novel, where a perfectly chosen word leaves you with a knot in your stomach, just as a disturbing sequence of images would."
—Maria Loreto, Paperback Paris (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Paperback Paris)
"The novel touches on many themes: queer sexual desire, violent sexual desire, immigration, the Midwest, imprisonment, and punishment. The novel is told in sparse lyrical fragments and Moshovich’s language is stunningly refrained throughout... The text retains the concision of poetry while giving the pleasures of pulp crime and this potent mixture allows Moshovich to go places contemporary fiction often shies away from."
—Keegan Swenson, Maudlin House (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Maudlin House )
"As she has done in the past, the author is a master of mixing the profound with the mundane, all the while delivering little bons mots of wisdom... There is a lot of spirituality and wisdom in these pages. It is pure Moskovich."
—Virginia Parobek, World Literature Today (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on World Literature Today )
"Literally like nothing I’ve ever read before... Moskovich’s style is what really makes A Door Behind A Door something fresh and interesting. She writes in bursts, breaking up paragraphs and thoughts into short, bite-sized chunks, each of them titled as well as though each piece were a tiny story in its own right. It is this structure that really lends itself to the dreamlike way the novel progresses; these small parts function like threads of the dream you are trying to keep hold of once you are awake, snapshots of a bigger picture that has become blurred at the edges."
—Nat Wassell, Cultured Vultures (Read the full review of A Door Behind A Door on Cultured Vultures)
"Yelena Moskovich's novel A Door Behind A Door is clever, surprising, and intense, a book I could not put down."
—David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy: Listen to the musical playlist that author Yelena Moskovich created for A Door Behind A Door created, on Largehearted Boy
"Olga escapes the violence of the Soviet Union for life in Milwaukee, but the reappearance of a Soviet murderer and rumors of her missing brother trouble her new life. Moskovich unfolds this non-linear story through telegraphic bursts of words."
—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Read the full review of A Door Behind A Door on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
New Books to Read in May: A Door Behind A Door by Yelena Moskovich
—The A.V. Club
New offerings from the world of crime, mystery, and thrillers: A Door Behind A Door by Yelena Moskovich
—CrimeReads (View the full list on CrimeReads)
A Door Behind A Door featured on "HAPPY LESBIAN DAY OF VISIBILITY! (APRIL 26, 2021)" and "NEW RELEASES: MAY 4, 2021"
—Dahlia Adler, LGBTQ Reads (View the full list on LGBTQ Reads)
"Yelena Moskovich’s A Door Behind A Door reminded me, as I was speeding through it, for there was no other way to read a work of such momentum and force, that novels are made of sentences, and who else writes sentences like this, does anyone else, I thought, as if in a fever dream, opening up each portal and falling through it, write sentences like this juxtaposing despair and lust, tragedy and farce. It’s like a hornier, more visceral The Crying of Lot 49."
—Kate Zambreno, author of Screen Tests, Heroines, and Green Girl
"It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before! Read if you’re into: Soviet diaspora stories, experimental fiction."
—Emily Burack, Alma (Read the full review of A Door Behind A Door on Alma)
"Unsettling, ferocious, complicated, engrossing, inscrutable. Yelena Moskovich writes like nobody else. Stunning stuff."
—Alex George on Twitter (Skylark Bookshop, Columbia, MO)
"A Door Behind a Door almost makes you relearn reading. It's told in bursts and bites of language that go on to mess with your mind. The best way to read it is in one sitting, preferably in the middle of the night. I did not do that and I wish I did."
—Anton Bogomazov, Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)
"A Door Behind a Door is mysterious like an inscrutable note found in a book you thought was new & haunting like the memory of a friend you betrayed. Murder, national identity, emigration, family, America, all swirl around in this story of a ghost from the homeland sabotaging a new life that feels like fairy tale fallen down a trap door. "
—Josh Cook, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)
"Oh, hell yes! Told from a variety of viewpoints—including that of a supernatural stray dog—and chopped into short fragments of prose, Yelena Moskovich’s A Door Behind a Door is a tiny tornado of fury, power, and homoeroticism amongst a community of Soviet immigrants in a purgatorial Milwaukee. Olga is forced to suddenly leave the blissful life she shares with her girlfriend in search of her brother, who has fallen in with the local Russian mafia amid a string of mathematical stabbings. She ends up knife-in-hand, after waitressing at a sleepless diner and catching a few glimpses/glitches of her brother as she and everyone around her sails into a raging sea. Read this book—once, twice, thrice—and you’ll get something new out of it every time."
—Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, The Raven Bookstore (Lawrence, KS)
“Utterly striking, Yelena Moskovich’s A Door Behind a Door successfully reimagines and subverts conventional notions of genre and form. Moskovich’s prior screenplay work is palpably felt in this work... A Door Behind a Door serves as a testament to Yelena Moskovich’s singular talent and innovation as a writer, a highly engrossing tale swirled in mystery and murder that will keep readers turning its pages until the very end.”
—Meghana Kandlur, Seminary Co-op Bookstores (Chicago, IL)
"Moskovich (Virtuoso) mystifies with this vivid story of a pair of estranged siblings who immigrated to Milwaukee from the Soviet Union as children in 1991... The dynamic style and psychological depth make this an engaging mind bender."
—Publishers Weekly (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Publishers Weekly)
"A tense puzzle box of a tale... This impressionistic novel is relayed in short paragraphs of sparse, measured prose as Moskovich portrays a loosely connected group of Russian immigrants caught up in a heady mixture of desire and violence."
—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"Happiness is a horror when you don’t believe you deserve it; so an immigrant learns in Yelena Moskovich’s daring literary novel, A Door Behind a Door... Olga and others narrate the tale in evocative, needful micro bursts. But as the book progresses, it seems increasingly likely that the others are part of a bleak fantasy, borne of Olga’s terror.... an excruciating novel in which love can be undone by stabs of selfdoubt."
—Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews, starred (Read the full review of A Door Behind a Door on Foreword Reviews)
"Yelena Moskovich returns with her latest work, A Door Behind a Door, bearing many of the hallmarks—the post-Soviet diaspora, the mesmeric blending of past and present, desire and violence—of her previous novels, Virtuoso and The Natashas. This time we are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the protagonist Olga receives a phone call opening up a Pandora’s box of haunting memories and unsolved puzzles from her Soviet past."
—Matt Janney, The Calvert Journal, "Books to look forward to in 2021" (View the full list on The Calvert Journal)
"This book is haunting, nightmarish and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Moskovich is an extremely talented writer and I flew through it in one sitting. The narrative unfolds in a nonlinear timeline and offers an ingenious sprinkling of clues along the way—blending the past and present so the mystery is revealed bit by bit. Moskovich conjures a creeping sense of terror and the vivid imagery moves along seamlessly and surrealistically making for a lucid read. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for an atmospheric, mind-bending novel."
—Kyra Johnson, @bibliokyra on Instagram
"Here is a novel that breaks the conventions of novel-writing... I particularly loved the way this narrative challenged my ideas of what fiction can be. The novel itself is a metaphor for the nonlinearity of time—of how the past not only informs the present but eats it. Of how the future not only feeds the past, but invents it. The author seems to ask, does it matter if it’s a dream when the consequences bleed into reality? I recommend this to anyone who loves atmospheric reads, mysterious childhoods, and are tired of predictable, formulaic novels."
—Swati Sudarsan, @booksnailmail on Instagram
View praise for Yelena Moskovich's Virtuoso here.
Yelena Moskovich was born in Ukraine (former USSR) and immigrated to Wisconsin with her family as Jewish refugees in 1991. Her plays and performances have been produced in the US, Canada, France, and Sweden. She has also written for Vogue, Frieze, Apartamento, Paris Review, Times Literary Supplement, and Dyke_on Magazine, amongst others. She is the author of The Natashas, Virtuoso, which was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, and A Door Behind a Door. She lives in Paris.
Enjoy a sneak peek of select pages from A Door Behind a Door!
View A Door Behind a Door sneak peek on Issuu.com
LIST PRICE: $16.99
PRINT ISBN: 9781953387028
DIGITAL ISBN: 9781953387035
RELEASE DATE: 5/18/2021
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"
Printed in Canada by Marquis, with the following environmental statement:
*Printed on Rolland Enviro. This paper contains 100% post-consumer fiber, is manufactured using renewable energy - Biogas and processed chlorine free.
*FSC certified paper (inside and cover).