cover image The Blue Lantern: And Other Stories

The Blue Lantern: And Other Stories

Victor Pelevin. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $22.95 (179pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1370-7

Young, popular and considered very hip, Little Russian Booker Prize winner Pelevin has already made a name for himself among the crop of writers who have grown out of post-Soviet Russia. In the first of a two-volume collection of his short stories, Pelevin focuses on the absurdities, traps and mysteries of Russia during the glasnost era, when the country felt its Communist shackles loosen, its consciousness shift. Not all of the mind-altering is so recent, however. In ""Crystal World,"" Pelevin reaches back to the country's 1917 beginning, where streets are patrolled by dunderheaded red guards whose only escape from the boredom is their cocaine. Pelevin consistently evokes such 20th-century phantasmagorists as Bulgakov and Abram Tertz (aka Andrei Sinyavsky). In the title story, children at a Young Pioneer camp exchange ghost stories that grow out of the confusion and uncertainty of their apparatchik surroundings--the very Gogolian implication being that everyone is dead, including the living. In ""Tambourine of the Upper World,"" Pelevin explores the supernatural and combines Russian mysticism with the desire of women to acquire foreign visas (so desperate are they that they are willing to marry resurrected foreign soldiers who died on Russian soil). Similar economic desperation leads two secret-service men to undergo sex-change operations, hoping to experience the more exciting--and profitable--lives of hard-currency prostitutes. Although the eight stories in this collection sometimes suffer from plots that develop too quickly or epiphanies that overwhelm their fictional context, Pelevin's raw, bold voice makes a welcome addition to the literature of a soul-searching Russia. (Oct.)