Sokolov’s language-driven novel, long considered untranslatable, finally makes it into English 36 years after its publication in Russia. Sokolov, best known for 1976’s A School for Fools, here adds narrative to his linguistic pyrotechnics and creates a unique, challenging read. The non-chronological action centers on the Volga River and is told in three forms. The lead, Ilya Petrikeich Zynzyrela, is a one-legged knife-sharpener whose chapters are told in colloquial, heavily accented dialect, in which Boguslawski departs from the original Russian, using his own puns and neologisms to varying effect. Ilya’s sections are contrasted by the overly erudite, floral chapters depicting the warden Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov. Yakov’s poems, many of which are lovely, are interspersed throughout and expand on the book’s themes. The plot fluctuates, but some facts are clear: after a wake for a drowned man, Ilya kills the warden’s dog, thinking it’s a wolf. After Ilya’s crutches are stolen by the vengeful warden, the story heads toward an inevitable conclusion. There are occasional difficulties that feel like impositions: for example, readers will be confused by the decision to provide endnotes but not place endnote numerals within the text, especially because Sokolov uses unattributed quotes from over a dozen Russian authors. However, even at peak moments of inscrutability, one feels the caliber and creativity of the original. This is a riot of language, invaluable for scholars and fascinating to the curious. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 01/23/2017 Release date: 12/01/2016 Genre: Fiction
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