January 6, 2012

Made It Moment: Elena Bruck

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:04 am

The Joker

Elena Bruck’s novel focuses on one of my favorite topics–how do we survive a catastrophic event, in this case pandemic? The best of novels such as these highlight the fact that while the worst is happening, we are still the people we’ve always been, limited and benefited by our own choices. I can’t wait to read Elena’s book–and from the first chapters available online, I think you will want to take a look, too. In the meantime, please follow along to see how Elena reached not end times, but her very own made it moment.

Elena Bruck

As a child, I was awkward and dreamed of greatness that eluded me in life: outrunning kids in my Moscow yard, climbing trees and being a proud boy by the name of Andrew. My first story, written at age seven in big uneven cursive, was vaguely based on Tom Sawyer. Plagiarism did not concern me. Soon after, my father’s friend and also the famous Russian writer Aksionov sat in our kitchen, choking on his tea and roaring with laughter while he read aloud from my black-leather bound notebook. I was hiding in the bathroom, excited and scared, when he gave his verdict: “She is talented and writes great dialogue.” Made it? Hmm…

At age eleven I wrote a novel a la Alexander Dumas. Writing it was intoxicating. Every week I read new chapters to my friend Katya on long Metro rides to our English lessons. Katya said once: “You are a genius. You and Pushkin!” Made it? Those novels didn’t have titles.

As a teenager I wrote unrhymed poems full of mysticism and unrequited love inspired by Lorca, Borges and T. S. Eliot. One friend loved it; another one dismissed it as “women’s poetry.” My parents rebelled at my idea of becoming a writer. Medicine consumed my life, first in Russian, then in German after I moved to Vienna. I didn’t write.

In New York, I wrote a novel in Russian called “The Long Body Of Life.” I sent it to Aksionov, who had been exiled to the US and taught literature at some college in Maryland. The novel was unedited (I believed that editing destroys the spirit of writing). He said “Wonderful writing! But it needs editing. I’ll give it to my publisher.” He didn’t. I was hurt and didn’t call him again. Now, how stupid was that? I’d almost made it.

I wrote short stories, increasingly more in English. It was less nuanced and more exciting than Russian, like a new ice-cream flavor. English was new to me and pure, a perfect tool of self-expression. It did not expect return favors like Russian: all this tiptoeing around concepts, choosing the best word.

The subtlety came as my English matured, and I wrote “The Joker,”a novel about choices of adulthood and surviving the pandemic of Avian Flu, published in September. It was fantastic to see my book in print, but the best reward remains the joy of writing itself, the process of making it.

Elena Bruck was born in Moscow, Russia, studied Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and is currently an assistant professor of psychiatry at one of New York’s hospitals.

She lives in the East Village together with her husband and two children.


  1. These type of books and movies are great. It’s fun being scared, yet guessing everything will turn out all right!

    Morgan Mandel

    Comment by Morgan Mandel — January 6, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  2. So interesting how you found you writing voice in English rather than your native Russian. English is incredibly direct. (I learned this teaching in Japan!) Best of luck with your novel.

    Comment by Sara — January 6, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  3. I like this plot. Thanks for the giveaway!


    Comment by Vidya — January 6, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  4. This is one of my favorite Made It Moments! A fantastic piece. Thanks so much!

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — January 6, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  5. I had never really thought about being a multi-lingual author. The ability to wrap your mind around the intricacies and nuances of more than one language amazes me. So much of culture is language, so to be multi-lingual is to be trulu multi-cultural. Now I am really looking forward to reading this book!

    Comment by Connie — January 6, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  6. Very interesting!

    Comment by Judy — January 6, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  7. I think it’s wonderful that you are a bi-lingual writer. You’ve also just pointed out why writing improves with maturity. We come into our own as we get older, realizing the need for rewriting and editing of our work.

    Best of luck with your novel,

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH in hardcover
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL–now available in ebook formats

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — January 6, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  8. Fabulous post. One of the best I’ve ever seen and a great Made It Moment story. Has to be a good book…

    Comment by Alex Lukeman — January 6, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  9. Congratulations! Fascinating story. And a lot of good praise! I find Russian to be a tremendously difficult language, and I love the way Russian writers communicate.

    Comment by SavvyBlue — January 6, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  10. I love being scared.


    Comment by Arthur Levine — January 6, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  11. Jenny, As usual, wonderful Made It Moment! I like being scared too! Thank you for introducing us to author Elena Bruck and her novel, The Joker. Love to cover.

    Comment by Sandy — January 6, 2012 @ 10:45 am

  12. GREAT Made it Moment! Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Pamela Brennan Albacete — January 6, 2012 @ 11:24 am

  13. Sounds interesting. I love Russian People, Russian Culture. I will definitely check into it.

    Comment by Lisa wharton — January 6, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  14. A beautiful moment. What great fortitude it must have taken to accomplish writing a book in another language. I cannot even imagine how difficult that would be. Congrats on “making it”.

    Comment by mountainmama — January 6, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  15. This is such a great “made it” story, and the book looks exciting!

    Comment by Bean — January 6, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  16. What a lovely snapshot into at least some of what has made you a writer. Nothing like fear (and pandemics) to fire the creative juices. Great post:)

    Comment by Eloise Hill — January 6, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  17. Wonderful, fascinating, life story. Looks like writing was always in your future. I must check out your book.

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — January 7, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

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