By Troy Patterson
Updated April 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the title story, a modern woman who owns a dacha outside Petersburg strips away its strata of wallpaper, destroying even the newspapers — ”brittle as layers of time” — that the previous owner had glued to the wood: ”I tore the last traces of Mikhail Avgustovich from the walls that he had held on to for half a century, and no longer needed by anyone in this new, bleached, laundered, and disinfected world, he faded.” In many of the 24 stories in White Walls, Tatyana Tolstaya likewise peels away at yellowed histories with a sensitive eye, evoking tranquil old governesses and faded customs with never a wasted phrase to break the spell.

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