Got a short story, ‘Halva’, published in a newspaper in Krasnodar, a beautiful city in the South of Russia. I grew up there and I consider it to be my hometown, even though I was born in a place called Rostov, and moved to Krasnodar when I was four. I still remember the train journey and our cat Foka – don’t laugh, that really was his name! – who had to travel in a bag. Krasnodar is hot in the summer, and gets snow in the winter. It was nicknamed Our Little Paris by a famous Russian writer Viktor Lihonosov and the tale goes that when the cossacks were first building the city, they based it on Paris, with its Champs Elysees.
The story is about homecoming, which is, I have realised, one of the main themes of my writing. I have always had to settle in a new city. First when I moved to Krasnodar and even at such a young age already felt foreign. Then when I moved to London for a few years and eventually to Manchester. So I am always curious about the process of coming home. About the people we leave behind, about our old selves that we abandon, about the barely noticeable changes in us as we start a new life somewhere else that accumulate and eventually make us into a completely different person. I always wonder what my life would have been like, had I not moved from one place to the next.
A couple of years ago I went to Krasnodar for the first time in ten years. There were many things that I discovered, many things that I had wanted to see and that had disappeared. I saw a few friends, walked a few streets I’d missed. I realised how different I had become, how English, in a way. Having spent ten years feeling homesick for Krasnodar, I was now longing to come home to Manchester. And then it struck me that what I was looking for wasn’t there anymore, but that it had always been inside me and I could take it anywhere with me. So now when I feel nostalgia, I go to a middle eastern shop which reminds me of the markets in Krasnodar, or I buy some Halva or I make some Armenian style dish, or I just put on some music like Zemfira and I feel happy, not sad.