In her story "Laughing Rats," Zarina Zabrisky says she left her birthplace in St. Petersburg, Russia, "like a rat from a sinking ship," from a place where foreigners were exploited, big business and the KGB made the rules and "the crowds march(ed) where guided, like sheep. ... Freedom is scary for them."
Ever mysterious, Zabrisky says she left when she was "young enough to forget when and old enough to keep ... (her) accent." She says St. Petersburg "changes names like a criminal on the run" and, to live a different life, she has been on the move, too. "I know that freedom is the major illusion," she says in the story. "But I still want it. I might be scared, but I refuse to follow their rules."
As a result, she has worked an odd array of jobs: as a freelance translator, travel coordinator and business liaison, in Kazakhstan oilfields and in Siberian lumberyards, selling art on the street and giving Thai massages to stay on the road. One thing she has done throughout, though, is write: "My head is crowded with stories," she says. "If I don't write them down my mind will explode and I will go crazy." Her debut collection of stories, "Iron," was just released from Epic Rites Press.
Zabrisky has become a sensation in the past year for her raucous readings, which are often accompanied by recorded music, developing a loyal group of followers. As in "Laughing Rats," wherein the author uses an intimate, confessional style of direct address, many of Zabrisky's stories contain a downplayed version of her own self-image that serves as a portal for more universal concerns.
To celebrate the release of "Iron," which features the photography of Julie Sparenberg and design by Sammy!, Zabrisky is hosting an event Thursday at Pegasus Books in Berkeley. The monster of a supporting cast will include Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Hollie Hardy and Eugene Ostashevsky, and there will be cheese pies and wine (7:30 p.m. Free. 2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. bit.ly/RNhtqw)