cover image Omon Ra

Omon Ra

Victor Pelevin, Viktor Pelevin. Farrar Straus Giroux, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22592-6

A rising star in the Russian literary firmament (see The Yellow Arrow, below), Pelevin, winner of the 1993 Russian Booker Prize for short stories, has written a parody of life under Communism refracted through the prism of the Soviet space program. This clever parable about a young cosmonaut ordered to make the ultimate sacrifice--killing himself after secretly piloting a supposedly unmanned lunar expedition--is sprinkled with throwaway gags, absurdist humor and wickedly ironic touches, as well as with the eerie beauty of space exploration. Obsessed with space travel since early childhood, Omon Krivomazov identifies with Ra, the ancient Egyptian falcon-headed sun god, a fixation that reflects his desire to escape the gray conformity of Soviet life and his yearning for a soul. Omon learns that more than 100 of his fellow cosmonauts have already been sacrificed as guinea pigs after taking part in supposedly automated, manless launches. Pelevin portrays the Russian space program as a vast propaganda enterprise, a distraction to paper over the tawdriness and fear of everyday life. Many allusions will be lost on American readers. And, in light of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction state of contemporary Russian society, some of the Soviet-era satire seems oddly tame. Nevertheless, as captured in Bromfield's superb translation, Pelevin is blessed with a distinctive mix of eloquence and nervous energy, inventive storytelling and subversive wit. (May)