cover image The Yellow Arrow

The Yellow Arrow

Victor Pelevin. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $11.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1324-0

While the Soviet space program, that repository of Party and national pride, provides Pelevin the setting for his satire of Communist-era Russia (see Omon Ra, above), he takes on contemporary Russia by employing one exquisite metaphor for post-Soviet anxiety and sustaining it through the course of his narrative. The Yellow Arrow, a Russian train with no visible beginning or end, hurtles toward its destination, a ruined bridge. It's impossible to get off because the train makes no stops. When passengers die, their bodies are ceremoniously tossed out the windows. Characters include Andrei, who desperately wants to get off the train while still alive; Grisha, who is brutally mugged between two cars; Anton, bohemian painter of beer cans; and Sergei, who gets religion and becomes a ""bedeist"" (""They believe we're being pulled along by a `B.D.3' locomotive... travelling toward a Bright Dawn""). Together, they reflect a post-Soviet realm in disarray, its people groping for political and moral direction while criminal mafias and extremist politicians gain ground. From time to time, people escape the train's stifling communal space by climbing out onto the roof, where they communicate in wordless gestures. A surreal metaphysical tale? A political allegory? Or a parable about the inseparability of life and death? It's all three, as Pelevin fuses pungent, visceral imagery reminiscent of Maxim Gorky with an absurdist comic outlook that harks back to the wave of Russian avant-garde fiction of the 1920s and '30s. Written in 1993, this beautiful and mysterious novella tantalizes with its multiple meanings. (May)