Kirstie's Reviews > Kangaroo

Kangaroo by Yuz Aleshkovsky
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's review
Dec 04, 2011

really liked it
Recommended for: People interested in satire and Soviet history
Read from December 01 to 04, 2011

This is written in the style of Skaz, which is a Russian term for a "particularly oral form of narrative" I learned this from Wikipedia, which is always right of course ( and I couldn't help thinking: "Wow. Skaz is way cooler than Ska."

Anyhow, this is quite a satire and has an element of absolute absurdity to it but at the same time, because Aleshokovsky uses the names of actual political leaders, one does question how much of the text is based on reality with veiled metaphors (some more veiled than others). Aleshkovsky could have taken this the way of Kafka's The Trial but he is way more playful and creative than that, even though sometimes it's more difficult for the reader to actually follow what is happening in the text. One gets the sense that it's difficult for the protagonist to figure out what is happening in his real life anyhow and in that way, it has tinges of experimental fiction.

Basically, the jist is this-the main character (written in first person as if telling a friend Kolya over a series of drinks what his experiences were throughout the novel) is not such a bad guy but he does owe the cops a favor. It just so happens that there is a computer that generates random crime possibilities and, when forced to pick between the mundane and the common crimes and the most bizarre crime imaginable, he of course picks the crime in which the perpetrator rapes and murders a kangaroo at the zoo.

What follows is experiments on him in terms of the human psyche and film as the best device for propaganda. The police officer Kadilla goes through all manners of experiments to try to convince him he's a kangaroo, has truly committed this crime, and even is soaring through space. He even has to deal with his own turned clothes turning on him. Our protagonist also seems to have issues with time and his own sense of personal history as he remembers and even seems to experience all these interactions he had or witnessed with Hitler and Stalin during the second world war. Stalin's foot turning on him is particularly amusing. And of course, what would a prison camp assignment for killing rats in the dark be without discovering that dormant third eye in the back of one's head.

This is the kind of book you'll want to read again after you study Soviet history and read 100 more novels written by famous Russians.

Some memorable quotes:

pg. 3 "That year-1949-I was the unhappiest man on earth. Maybe in the whole solar system. Of course I was the only one who knew this, but then personal unhappiness isn't like being world famous-you don't need the recognition of all mankind for it."

pg. 26-27 "...and I guess we're not meant to untangle the skein of world history. We didn't pull it off the knees of that old granny, Life, and tangle it up. It was some little kitten. So let the kitten untangle it..."

pg. 97 "I guess men always envy anyone any kind of eternal existence, even an agonizing one."

pg 122-123 "I'm a weird strange kind of guy. I'm beginning to understand a whole lot about what's happened in my life, Kolya. But what I don't get is this deep, warm, quiet laugh at what you'd think would be the worst moments of your life. What does it mean? My soul's alive and well, undamaged by the devil's worst weapon, despair? It's alive and chortling over the forces of evil's frantic activity, safe, knowing it's invulnerable? Is that it or not?

pg. 143 "I told him if you subtract the enthusiasm of the twenties from the enthusiasm of the thirties, all that's left is ten years for counterrevolutionary agitation and propaganda."

pg. 150 "We got this epilepsy epidermic from Dostoevsky. I can't think why Belinsky and I didn't liquidate him them. None of this would have happened." (From the character Chernyshevsky who in real life died waaaaay before the second world war.)

pg. 159 "But what's a pretty girl with no money to do about stockings? Or shoes? She ages five years the first time they're reheeled and twenty the second. It's just no fun to walk around anymore. Don't even mention stocking runs. Those runs make a woman's heart bleed like real wounds in men's hearts."

pg. 169 "So I don't offend anyone, I'd like to be a farmer in the Antarctic, where they still don't have political parties."

pg. 173 "I tell you, Kolya, you should never turn anything. I certainly don't want to get to the Last Judgement to find me and Karpo Marx accused of trying to change the world. No thanks! The world doesn't forgive men who try to turn it inside out."

pg. 184 "I sing my favorite little ditty

The streetcar floats through the sea,
The phonographs sound sad,
Inside his little railroad car,
The tsar resigned. Too bad."

pg. 224 "In a word, pain strips a lot of superfluous stuff from a man."

pg. 237 "...believe me, Kolya-I can see you believe me by your sad eyes-you couldn't tell the two kinds of pain apart. Human suffering is no better by a single tear or scream or faint than a butterfly's or a cow's or an eagle's or a rat's. That's the only thing I'm sure of."

pg. 264 "Kids these days. There's no souls inside 'em, only tapeworms"

pg. 265 "Jesus, I get so pissed at all the people who can't believe in a higher reality, who deny or tragic, joyful existence, even if they're basically decent types."


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