cover image Paranoia


Victor Martinovich, trans. from the Russian by Diane Nemec Ignashev. Northwestern Univ., $21.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-8101-2876-7

Timothy Snyder’s foreword, which first appeared as a lengthy essay in the New York Review of Books, explains that Martinovich’s novel is set in contemporary Belarus, the capital of Minsk, though neither of these names is mentioned in the novel itself (the book was banned in its homeland after publication). The story begins on a dramatic high note: writer Anatoly Nevinsky, under regular observation by his country’s Ministry of State Security, discovers that his new love, Lisa, is missing. Anatoly’s distress and verbal grandiloquence lend the narrative a juicy pulse of excitement, though the plot, such as it is, moves slowly. Anatoly’s first-person recounting of the history of his nascent affair alternates with a cooler omniscient voice. The lengthy midsection consists of communiques and transcripts about the monitoring of Anatoly. Starchy officialese abuts the lovers’ elaborate dialogue, to highly satiric effect (Lisa is code-named “Fox”; Anatoly “Gogol”). We also learn that Lisa is short for Elisaveta; the besotted Anatoly devises “the Elisavetalogue,” a list of 10 commandments concerning his new ladylove (#9: “Be fruitful and multiply with Elisaveta”). A thorny third section describes Anatoly’s pursuit of and clash with the bureaucracy. Both dense and intense, the novel, full of passionate intelligence and incisive wit, defies easy pigeonholing. (Mar.)