Written by Irina Kovalyova
Publication Date June 06, 2015
The stories in Specimen are a unique exploration of science and the human heart; the place where physical reality collides with our spiritual and emotional lives.
In “The Blood Keeper,” a young academic travels to North Korea to work on her dissertation and embarks on a dangerous affair. In “Mamochka,” which was nominated for the 2012 Journey Prize, an archivist at the Institute for Physics in Minsk, must come to terms with her daughter’s marriage to a Chinese man in Vancouver. In “Peptide P,” scientists study a disease that seems to affect children after they eat hotdogs. In “Side Effects,” a woman’s personality is altered, and not necessarily for the better, by botox injections. In “The Big One,” a woman and her daughter find themselves trapped in the rubble of an underground parking garage after an earthquake.
Stylistically varied and with settings that range from North Korea and Minsk to Vancouver and Gdansk, Kovalyova is daring and confident new voice in Canadian fiction.
Short-listed for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize 2016
Irina Kovalyova has a Master’s degree in Chemistry from Brown University, a doctoral degree in Microbiology from Queen’s University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. She has previously interned for NASA and worked for two years as a forensic analyst in New York City. She was born in Russia and currently lives in Vancouver.
"To read Irina Kovalyova is to peer through a microscope and discover worlds infinitely big and exquisitely small. These stories are luminous. They capture light. They cast sharp shadows. They take root in your heart. I have never read stories like these, and I long to read more. Rare specimens, indeed." Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise, winner of the Amazon First Novel Award
"…it’s the singularity of her point of view (the lines, edges and details, the wideness and wildness of her premises) that exalts these stories…A collection of beauty, light, colour, curios, permitting readers access into worlds that are usually unexamined, those wild spaces in between." Pickle Me This blog
"[Irina Kovalyova] is a great storyteller – astonishingly skilled at both traditional and experimental narrative. The writing is immediate, bold, and original. Lean, powerful dialogue." Quill & Quire
"Throughout Specimen, Kovalyova pushes boundaries, going beyond “routine procedures.” She offers readers a glimpse through a literary microscope, and into our own dark spaces." Coastal Spectator
"… such a varied collection testifies to a roaming imagination and willingness to push the boundaries of form and technique." Globe and Mail
"Specimen deserves an attentive readership. Don’t let anyone tell you Kovalyova is a scientist — she is a humanist dreamer with a science day job." Toronto Star
"Like her, many of Kovalyova’s characters are scientists, and she equips them with language that is both rigorous and beautiful; …original, odd, and compelling mix of sci-fi–flavoured literature" Georgia Straight
"Specimen combines the fresh perspective of a writer beginning her career with the confidence and impact of a veteran author." Open Book
"whip-smart debut story collection" Metro, Bookworm Column
"I love it when impressive new work by a debut writer takes me by surprise. That’s how I experienced this series of fascinating short stories by Irina Kovalyova… Don’t assume that these stylistic innovations or the scientific nature of the content take away from the work’s emotional power. Kovalyova’s taut prose – not a word is wasted – tells stories about fear, ambition and love…there's no doubt great things are coming from this writer. Watch out for her." NOW
"these immensely readable stories demonstrate that we do have imagination, we do have a sense of humour" National Post
"Kovalyova’s an accessible, gifted and animated storyteller — inventive, comic, insightful, fresh and always curious." Vancouver Sun
"The influence of Russian writers shines on every page …a technical marvel" Maclean’s Magazine
"Kovalyova's marvellous collection delivers, with stories skirting the genres of sci-fi, suspense, historical fiction, and more." 49th shelf Summer Reading Recommendations
"It will surprise no one that Specimen…is as intelligent and “highly original” as its flyleaf proclaims. But it might surprise some that these stories are, well, softhearted, relying as much on qualitative emotional connects as they do on data…there’s no story in this wonderful collection that isn’t engrossing." Winnipeg Free Press
"...a debut collection that successfully and gracefully bridges the divide between the worlds of art and science." Publishers Weekly
"...Kovalyova’s stories remain large-hearted and generous toward their characters as they struggle to make sense of the strange worlds around them." Kirkus
"Diverse in setting and form, these nine stories, long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, contrast the scientific understanding of genetics with deeper wisdom about the bonds of love and family." Foreword Reviews