This is a great new book by Oliver Bullough about Russia’s aging pains, as it has fallen from the limelight as a world power. This decline, while in pThis is a great new book by Oliver Bullough about Russia’s aging pains, as it has fallen from the limelight as a world power. This decline, while in part corresponding to the end of communism, has really been ongoing since at least the 1970’s and has included a decline in lifespan, falling birthrates, and rampant alcoholism. Bullough chronicles this agonizing dysfunction through the guise of an Eastern Orthodox priest by the name of Father Dmitry, a one time dissident who betrayed the cause in a rather spectacular manner. A dreary, depressing and beautifully elegiac tour of Russia’s present peculiarities and past struggles on the country’s remote highways and through seemingly lost archives. As a book about the intersections of religion, society and politics this book is fantastic....more
At this point my conclusion is as a stand-alone piece of work the middle section of the Ice Trilogy is brilliant, bizarre and terrifying. As part of tAt this point my conclusion is as a stand-alone piece of work the middle section of the Ice Trilogy is brilliant, bizarre and terrifying. As part of the whole, the second book Ice feels more like a way-station on a journey that is swinging toward tedium. It feels like blasphemy because my meat machine heart has loved almost everything that has been translated by Sorokin thus far, for its violence, its objectivism, its alien tone, but Ice Trilogy is an epic undertaking that seems better suited to the small form, where not all the answers are visible and the anthropological detail is not so thick. By itself the previously published Ice felt like a Korean horror film, where the lack of explanation was part of the terror. By page 400 I'm starting to feel glad that Krom, Gorg, and Blurp are on the verge of destroying themselves and the rest of the human race.
I'd recommend reading Ice alone or definitely The Queue if you can get your hands on it. ...more
The centerpiece to this book, a road borne trip across Siberia in a malfunctioning van is very engrossing. Siberia is presented as a place where eachThe centerpiece to this book, a road borne trip across Siberia in a malfunctioning van is very engrossing. Siberia is presented as a place where each beauty supplants the next and each trash pile rises higher than the previous; where one form of quixotic disfunction exceeds the prior. And then there are world shaking events and time-wasted and a history lesson, or six history lessons.
All in all, this is one of those travel books, that surely acknowledges that traveling is an awful, (in the modern sense), and life changing experience, but it could likely have kicked off at page 150, as opposed to page one. ...more
Stories Read: "Shylock on the Neva" - Gary Shteyngart "The Ambassador's Son" - Tom Bissell "The Condor" - Milenko Jergovik "Babylon Revisited Redux" - JohStories Read: "Shylock on the Neva" - Gary Shteyngart "The Ambassador's Son" - Tom Bissell "The Condor" - Milenko Jergovik "Babylon Revisited Redux" - John Beckman "Hiroshima" - Vladimir Sorokin "Wenceslas Square" - Arthur Phillips
This compilation of short stories from and about Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics was shockingly good in places. I picked it up for the Vladimir Sorokin story which concludes the volume, but that short ended up being one of the lesser reasons for liking this book.
Gary Shteyngart's "Shylock on the Neva" is told from the perspective of a doomed ogliarch paying a portrait painter to capture his true debased nature. It will certainly propell me to read further Shteyngart. We are made privy to such a weird world in this piece and the text nonetheless seems utterly native to it; worthless wealth and resignment.
"The Ambassador's Son" is the second thing I've read from Tom Bissell. The first was an elegiac travel narrative about Uzbekistan. That text was somewhat self involved but very interesting in places. The same could be said for this work, which is actually more successful because he has invented the self-obsessed character of the Ambassador's Son to propell the action through a Grimy Central asian capital.
Arthur Phillips much heralded novel Prague is a little wishy-washy in my opinion with lots of overblown nostalgia for events as they unfold. His piece in this book is no different, except that in unravels around some convoluted spy game. But besides that it takes place some melancholy capitol where there is a palpable sense that the life you love is gone before you've lived it.
I loved "The Condor" which read like a fable of war and seems effortless in its relation of fact, deadpan in its reportage of humor. I've never read any Milenko Jergovik, but he seems to approach the short story much like Julio Cortazar through simple language, shoulder shrugging and with a complete lack of bafflement by the absurd.
The capper on this collection is "Babylon Revisited Redux" by John Beckman. Told from the perspective of Dan Quayle, we watch the former vice president stagger innocently, though drunkenly into a shady Polish real estate scheme only to be delivered by his mystery author wife who has solved the case before any permanent damage is done. A mix of affable mid-western attitudes on the part of Dan Quayle and a vague thuggish Polish crime syndicate.
All in all, I doubt I've encountered a short story compilation that gathers so many good quality reads in one place. ...more
Perhaps I am just overly enamored with Sorokin, but in each of his books he redeems all of the boring parts by something particularly grandiose but thPerhaps I am just overly enamored with Sorokin, but in each of his books he redeems all of the boring parts by something particularly grandiose but that seems simplistic. Perhaps it is the concept novel that makes its very goal creating a perfect believable world for the concept to thrive in. The whole world of this novel assumes the queue is important, wouldn't dare question it, not even in a vodka induced philosophical moment.
Slight of hand.
In this case its the sweet but cynical ending for our underacheaving hero Vadim, the only happy ending possible in a world so bored out its head with waiting, starved for that consumerist high. This conclusion paired with Sorokin's amazing afterward which waxes poetic on the bygone days of the queue and I can't help it - I'm swept away.
i hear that Day of the Oprichnik is coming in English. I can't wait. ...more