Worlds Apart: Forsaken Italians and Lost Bananas

While speaking on her book, Snow in May, Kseniya Melnik offered real-life contexts for the first story in the collection, “Love, Italian Style, or in Line for Bananas.” The discussion in part illuminated the conflicts between Tanya’s potential rendezvous with the Italian soccer player her preparations for the journey home to Magadan, to her husband and children. Much like the story’s inspiration, Tanya has the opportunity to venture out to a hotel to meet up with a foreigner who finds her beautiful. But while in Moscow, there is also important shopping to be done. And a hot date seems to be the furthest thing from Tanya’s mind when she hits the Moscow malls in search of imported luxuries to bring home to her family in Magadan.

Tanya’s main struggles exist through conflicting worlds, as if she is being pulled in two different directions: the Italian, or her husband; luxuries waiting in Moscow, or gifts brought home to Magadan; a green silk dress fit for a rendezvous, or a queue waiting for bananas. By the end of the story, several of these small conflicts see resolution, but not in the most complete sense. Tanya ultimately forsakes the rendezvous with the Italian soccer player to stand in line for bananas that she can bring home to her family. And yet in the airport, upon noticing some of her luggage missing, there is not a single thought of any luxurious Yugoslavian silk: “She lost her breath, as if punched in the stomach. The bananas” (25). When miserable Tanya finally arrives home and peers through what remains of her luggage, yes, the bananas are gone, along with much of the produce and meats and cheeses she purchased at the market. But the green Yugoslavian dress—the dress she would have worn to meet her Italian date at the hotel—is still in her suitcase, packed away without a wrinkle. Meanwhile, the fancy smoked sausages and wine she would have been bringing home to her husband have been lost with her missing luggage.

Is it significant that the silk remains—that the dress she would have worn to step out on her husband has made it to Magadan intact, when the gifts she bought for her husband have not? Tanya did not really buy the dress specifically for the rendezvous, though she had agreed to meet the Italian soccer player days before her shopping trip. In fact, Tanya reflects that the dress would serve little purpose at home in Magadan, as it was “too light” (17). Tanya does not spare a single thought for her rendezvous while shopping in Moscow, not even when buying the fancy green dress. And ultimately, Tanya’s decision to wait in line for bananas, the last minute gift for her children, outweighs her decision to meet the Italian. Yet when the bananas and other gifts are lost in the chaos of the Moscow airport the next day, and the pretty useless green dress ends up making the journey east, the implicit connection between these events becomes increasingly apparent. The green dress has survived, but there is no longer an occasion to wear it, no longer a rendezvous with a foreign date. And the bananas that took precedence over said rendezvous have been lost during the journey home.

The story’s central struggle comprises Tanya’s various choices during her stay in Moscow and their respective consequences. But choices between meeting hot soccer players and waiting in line for bananas must mean more than what is offered at face value. Such specific conflicts raise interesting questions for this particular story and for the collection overall, questions about the value of domestic life in Magadan versus the luxurious life lying further west.

Amanda Seifert
RUS 436 – Havighurst Colloquium

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