KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Satire: 229 words [R]

Not-Evens

by Mikhail Iossel
 

Not even Hitler gassed his own people. Not even Stalin threatened the world with nuclear weapons. Not even Lenin ordered summary executions of orthodox priests. Not even Vlad the Impaler impaled people at random. Not even General Westmoreland sanctioned the use of napalm in Vietnam.

All true, of course. But by the same token...

Not even Genghis Khan mocked disabled reporters. Not even Ivan the Terrible played so much golf at taxpayers’ expense. Not even Caligula tweeted such adolescent nonsense first thing in the morning. Not even Ayatollah Khomeini boasted publicly about grabbing women’s genitals. Not even Pol Pot hung out with so many Russian mobsters. Not even Idi Amin refused to release his tax returns. Not even Mussolini gave such stupid nicknames to his political opponents. Not even Saddam Hussein lived in a more tastelessly decorated penthouse. Not even Grand Inquisitor Torquemada slapped his name on so many tacky skyscrapers. Not even Jeffrey Dahmer managed to lose one billion dollars in one year while running a casino. Not even Robespierre called Mexicans rapists. Not even Emperor Hirohito had less of a sense of humor. Not even Mao Zedong lied about the size of his inauguration crowds. Not even Attila the Hun had as little understanding of the US Constitution. Not even Vladimir Putin has a more charming smile. Not even the rain has such small hands.

 

—Appears here by author’s permission; previously published on Facebook (12 April 2017) in response to Sean Spicer’s comment to journalists during a press briefing at the White House: “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Mikhail Iossel
Issue 8, August 2017

is the Leningrad-born author of the story collection Every Hunter Wants to Know: A Leningrad Life (W. W. Norton, 1991); co-editor with Jeff Parker of the anthologies Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States (Dalkey Archive Press, 2004) and Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia (Tinhouse Press, 2009); a professor of English and Creative Writing at Concordia University in Montreal; publisher of Scoundrel Time, an online literary journal; and the founding director of the Summer Literary Seminars international program, one of the world’s largest and most innnovative independent international literary programs, holding conferences in Russia, Kenya, Lithuania, Italy, and elsewhere.

Iossel came to the United States in 1986 from the former Soviet Union, where he worked as an electromagnetic engineer/submarine demagnetizer and as roller-coaster security guard, and belonged to Club-81, the organization of samizdat writers. He began writing in English in 1988 and now writes both in Russian and in English. His work has been translated into a number of languages. His stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker (online), Guernica, The Literarian, Agni Review, The North American Review, the Threepenny Review, Interia, Boulevard, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Current books-in-progress include Samizdat, a collection of stories; Winterbreak, a novel; and an untitled collection of novellas set both in the US and Russia and united by the commonality of narrative perspective.

Among Iossel’s awards are the Guggenheim and Stegner Fellowships, an NEA grant, and three research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. In the US, he graduated with an MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of New Hampshire and subsequently was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University. Prior to moving to Canada in 2004, Iossel taught creative writing at the University of Minnesota, New York University, St. Lawrence University, and Union College.

Faculty Profile of Iossel at Concordia University

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Scoundrel Time, a new journal launched on 30 January 2017 which focuses on fighting Donald Trump’s administration: “Mikhail Iossel, our publisher, provided the original impetus and concept for this publication, and spurred us on with his passion for making a difference and reaching out to artists around the globe.... If we all stand up, we can support each other. Resist.” (Paula Whyman: Letter from the Editor)

Five Rulers and One Presidential Press Conference, an essay in which Iossel describes five Soviet rulers who were dictators but not whiners, and which he wrote in response to Donald Trump’s White House press conference on 16 February 2017; published in “Culture Desk,” The New Yorker (22 February 2017)

Iossel’s Works in “Culture Desk” and “Page-Turner,” in The New Yorker

Moscow Windows, a memoir of 7,157 words in Guernica (2 May 2016) describing a visit with close relatives in Moscow when Iossel was 15 years old, during which he met the elderly and enigmatic Lev Konstantinovich, a physicist who was once among “the brightest young stars of Soviet science” yet was later accused of being a British spy and subsequently survived 18 years of hard labor in a prison camp.

“I lay silently in the dark, listening to Marat‘s quiet snoring and gazing at the muted, warm live splashes of light across the ceiling. I wondered what it must feel like—at some point in your life, just out of nowhere, to forget everything about your past, lose all memories of yourself as a child, as a young man? How could it even be possible—living as a hostile stranger to yourself and your own past, carrying your own enemy within at all times, that permanent eraser of all your previous memories? How it must feel—to die and be brought back to life with no recollections preceding the moment of your death, no memories to rely on for your eternal salvation—how odd, how terrible! Why would one even choose to go on living, I wondered, under such hopeless circumstances, as a man with no past, when the past is all we have and all there is?”

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