A WEREWOLF PROBLEM IN CENTRAL RUSSIA: And Other Stories
Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield, . Translated by Andrew Bromfield. . New Directions, $12.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1543-5
Originally published in 1994, Pelevin's second Booker Prize–winning short fiction collection brilliantly and poignantly satirizes the economic, cultural and spiritual decay of Mother Russia under Communism. Kafka, one of Pelevin's more obvious literary ancestors, described his own enigmatic black fantasies as "parables," and so are Pelevin's: almost fable-simple on the surface with strange subterranean currents contorting their helpless protagonists into caricatures and corpses. These eight parables each close on a lesson illustrating the absurdity of life in the U.S.S.R. "Sleep" opens at a Marxist-Leninist university lecture, where Nikita Dozakin discovers that everyone, including his droning professor, has learned to avoid all unpleasantness—daily living—by functioning in their sleep. In "Tai Shou Chuan," Comrade Chan, whisked mysteriously to Moscow, rises to rule the entire country, but is dumped for telling the truth; power, in the eyes of the wise, he learns, is no different from an anthill. "The Ontology of Childhood," like the title story and "Vera Pavlovna's Ninth Dream," reveals the bitter pain of every stage of life under the Soviets: adults make children "feel rotten because they want you to become just like them"—depressed, drunken, angry, isolated, less than human. The few feeble flashes of compassion and joy in Pelevin's bleak landscape are achieved only by sleep, alcohol, drugs or changing into something other than a citizen of a land where "you were born and grew up in a prison," subject to inhuman laws a Big Brother made and enforces, which you blindly endure with "the calm enduring hatred known only to Siamese cats with cruel masters, and Soviet engineers who read George Orwell."
Reviewed on: 04/28/2003