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The Round Dance of Water


Full English translation available

From the man Arturo Pérez-Reverte has called “the most talented young Russian author” comes this extraordinary family saga, a journey into the depths of the human soul. 

The Round Dance of Water is an intricately patterned portrait of three generations of a large family. In the narrative there is no division into primary and secondary characters: each individual fate bears significant weight and streams into the common flow of the turbulent history of the 20th century.

There’s Nikita Melnikov, 37, who runs a small aquarian design business. As he soaks in his young lover’s sweat, Maria, Nikita’s wife, is verging on despair, crushed by her fruitless attempts to conceive a child. She sees her barren body as a vessel for other people’s dramas, living through the grieves and sorrows of strangers and opening herself up to the tragedies of people she could never meet in the real world. They come to her in dreams, these strangers, and Maria, an unwilling witness, never imagines that the history of her own family could in fact be intertwined with these sad stories.

Alexander Brisov, Nikita’s 30-year-old step-brother, is a gifted artist whose once anti-bourgeois escapist actions have now turned into frequent drinking bouts. In his bleak, vodka-infused fears, he is being dragged to the bottom by monsters and drowned men. He suspects that he knows who these ghosts are – they are the victims of the purges, arrested and interrogated in the 1930s by his grandfather Grigory Brisov, a member of the Russian nobility who became an NKVD officer to save his own and his family’s lives. We also follow the life of Nikita’s and Alexander’s cousin.

Anya, 33, is a single mother who works as a salesclerk in a shoe shop. A strong and independent young woman, she takes after her grandmother, who served as a sniper in WWII. Shielding herself from attachments with the motto Be afraid of no one, rely on no one – and trouble can’t touch you, Anya is caught unprepared when her new lover offers to build a normal life together with her. Time here is like deep water separating people from different epochs; yet it is also numerous streams that flow from the past into modern days.

Actions taken by the characters’ parents in the past echo decisions their children make in the present – strange parallels seen through the looking glass of the refracted surface of time. As the finely pitched narrative moves between generations, locales, and times, so shifts the tone of the text. Each character’s story is told in part by themselves and as imagined by an- other member of the family, making for unexpected twists and discoveries.

The journey into time and human psychology has also become a field for literary adventure for Sergey Kuznetsov. Written in a clear, elegant style, the novel is filled with literary allusions and is rich with cultural codes. The range of voices is diverse and broad – from Rudyard Kipling through Andrei Platonov and Daniil Kharms, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Strugatsky brothers; from canonic film noir to Japanese anime. The masterfully directed chorus is an outstanding accomplishment, a pure artistic delight, and the novel represents a genuine exploration of culture of the 20th century.


A whirlpool that drags a swimmer to the bottom, into death and oblivion, it is also a waterspout lifting one above the surface of life. Finally, it's the eternal cycle we know about from our schooldays. Sergey Kuznetsov's novel is a battle with the fear of death. The recipe is simple: love those who are close to you, and remember that you are neither the beginning, nor the end. Yes, this unusual family saga also resembles a whirlpool, engulfing its readers and holding them till the last page.

— Leonid Yuzefovich, writer

An unusual chronicle of our time, of the past decades. It's not only the story of various characters, not only a portrait gallery. This is a history of human passions, a "round dance" of desire told in 108 chapters (an essential number in Buddhist culture).

— Echo of Moscow Radio

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2010, 2019

608 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Dalkey Archive Press

  • Arabic AS Publishers

Literary awards

  • Finalist of the Big Book Award 2011

  • Longlisted for the National Bestseller Prize 2011

  • Nominated for the New Literature Award 2011

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