cover image The Blizzard

The Blizzard

Vladimir Sorokin, trans. from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-11437-4

In 19th-century Russia, a district doctor named Platon Ilich Garin and his dim-witted groom, Crouper, coax their horses through a nightmarish snowstorm to deliver a crucial vaccine to the village of Dolgoye. It could almost be a classic story by Chekov or Gogol. However, this novel is by Sorokin, author of the pitch-dark Ice Trilogy and the scabrous post-Soviet send-up Day of the Oprichnik, and thus, Garin’s sled mobile happens to be en route to stop the spread of a zombie epidemic (reportedly from Bolivia) that threatens to engulf the countryside. The adventures of Garin and Crouper as the two take shelter against the merciless storm are no less bizarre. There’s a lusty miller’s wife and the tiny husband that sleeps in her bosom, an order of health-conscious Kazakhs, and even a giant, well-endowed snowman. But in the blizzard, dreams overwhelm reality, and Garin finds himself beset by a series of reveries—rendered in virtuosic bursts of prose—that tempt him with fantasies of happier times. It’s not fair to call this story “Turgenev with zombies,” since the book bears Sorokin’s usual mix of bleak social commentary and unfettered strangeness (of his other works, it most resembles the screenplay for the hallucinogenic Russian cult-classic film 4). However, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of his previous books, despite its fast pace and air of frigid danger. Sorokin’s mean streak is still intact, but The Blizzard is, paradoxically, the breeziest of satires. (Dec.)