What did you think when you read the news about these new anti-gay measures?
I was totally shocked. I saw that at first they were passing local anti-gay laws in St. Petersburg and other places, and I thought, "Well, maybe they'll
last a year or two, and then they'll repeal them."
We didn't believe that they would be enacted on the federal level. These types of laws, in my opinion, foster fascist tendencies in society -- it's very
dangerous to create these kinds of divisions of good and bad, of who can speak and who can't.
My only hope is that it will be too hard to enforce. It's very vague, so there's a chance it might be too hard to realize in reality. There's this saying
in Russia, it's left over from Soviet times: "The laws may be harsh, but at least we don't enforce them."
Have bookstores pushed back against accepting this book?
That was a surprise for me -- I was afraid that bookstores would not take it. Usually they really are skeptical about taking on these difficult topics. It
was a pleasant surprise that most stores took it, though some put an "18+" stamp, even though it's a young adult novel.
Have you received any negative reactions from readers or the government?
There was a presentation about my book at the Moscow Book Fair in June, and when the presentation was reported on a web site, there were some very nasty
comments on that story. There have also been some reports from libraries and bookstores from people saying, "why would you write about homosexuality in a
children's book? We have so many other problems."
But that criticism is weird to me. Writers write about what's important to them, not about what's most important to society. The fact that people think
writers should only write about "useful" topics is another sign of illiberalism in a society.
I haven't had any bad reactions from the government, but then again, the book has only been out for a month. Young-adult novels aren't really the first
order of things that the government scrutinizes.
Why do people in Russia often say, "We have bigger problems. Why talk about homosexuality?"
I run into this a lot, but in my view the conversation about homosexuality is one of tolerance, and the conversation over tolerance should continue over
many parallels, including homosexuality.
Why would you say, "We want our kids to be nice to everyone," but simultaneously prohibit accepting certain categories of people. It's a little absurd.
Would you ever go back to Russia?
My ideal is to split time between Austria and Russia. But these laws, we can't regard them passively. The fact that I wrote this book and they're talking
about it now, that's my contribution to the idea that people should be more tolerant of those who aren't like them.
I feel like if I say that Austria is the only country for me, it's condoning what's going on in Russia. Russia is my country, and I feel like I'm capable
of changing things there.
Do you think this book will help change any minds over there?
Books that are about taboos are always hard to accept, but eventually their existence helps to change things.
Have you gotten any positive reactions from readers?
Yes, and it's always touching -- one boy wrote to me and said, "when I read this book, I understood that it was about me." If a person read it and saw
himself in it, nothing can be better than that for an author.