“Her writing is potent and enticing…”
– The New York Times
“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.”
– NOW Magazine
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.
“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
“…she is a great storyteller – astonishingly skilled at both traditional and experimental narrative… Issues of biology – genetics, race, disease – are often at the root of the characters’ conflicts, but Kovalyova turns these subjects into very human, authentic disconnections between people who (mostly) love each other. Throughout, she balances cool rationalism with hot emotion. The writing is immediate, bold, and original.”
-Quill and Quire
“It will surprise no one that Specimen, Kovalyova’s debut collection of short stories, is as intelligent and “highly original” as its flyleaf proclaims. But it might surprise some that these stories are, well, soft-hearted, relying as much on qualitative emotional connections as they do on data… there’s no story in this wonderful collection that isn’t engrossing… there’s no ambivalence in Kovalyova’s approach to people: they love, they are loved, and that is a story worth telling over and over.”
-Winnipeg Free Press
“Don’t let anyone tell you Kovalyova is a scientist — she is a humanist dreamer with a science day job.”
“Kovalyova’s an accessible, gifted and animated storyteller–inventive, comic, insightful, fresh and always curious.”
“Specimen’s original, odd, and compelling mix of sci-fi–flavoured literature proves Kovalyova’s experiment a significant one that surely deserves further testing.”
-The Georgia Straight
“Specimen is enriched with the author’s scholarship, but its nine stories also pack an emotional punch.”
An Amazon.ca Best Book of the Month for June
House of Anansi, world, May 2015
Shortlisted for the 2016 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
Shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize