The Buddha's Return

Gaito Gazdanov, trans. from the Russian by Bryan Karetnyk. Pushkin (pushkinpress.com), $18 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-78227-059-1
Gadzanov's previous novel to be translated into English, The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, a masterly Dostoevskian and noir-ish narrative of doubled identities, turns out to have only been a taste of the dizzying strangeness to which this novel ascends. A troubled student experiences a crisis and "dies,"only to be arrested by a mysterious—and dysfunctional—bureaucracy working for the "Central State." Released into the nightlife of Paris, the unnamed student becomes acquainted, and eventually obsessed, with one Pavel Alexandrovich Scherbakov, a former beggar who has become a glamorous arriviste. Together, they spend nights discussing philosophy, religion, and literature—but Pavel Alexandrovich retains connections from the Paris criminal underworld and is drawn into the schemes of Zina and Lida, a vicious mother-daughter team, even as the student begins to be visited by an enigmatic lieutenant calling himself the Gentleman, who insinuates that there may be more than lucky accident behind Pavel Alexandrovich's change in fortune. When Pavel Alexandrovich is murdered—and his prize golden Buddha stolen—the Central State takes the student into custody as the perpetrator; but at this juncture, it's not even clear who is dead, who is living, and where the cycle of betrayal and mistaken identity will end. This is an excellent novel by any standard, and especially remarkable for joining the philosophical underpinnings of the Russians with the intrigue of a French thriller. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/02/2015
Release date: 04/14/2015
Genre: Fiction
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