cover image Glas 21: The Face-Maker and the Muse

Glas 21: The Face-Maker and the Muse

Leonid Latynin. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, $14.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-56663-275-1

Part of Glas's series of Russian writing newly in English translation, this fable about an artist living in a bizarre dystopic society was written in 1978, but it wasn't published in Russia until 10 years later, after perestroika. Latynin's dense and challenging novel is set in a nameless ""City,"" where the inhabitants themselves receive names only if they are among the privileged few. All other residents are known by their numbers, and ranking depends on how closely a person's face resembles the official model visage, ""The Image,"" which is crafted by the Great Face-Maker. After the latter is ousted in a political rift, his apprentice, Face-Maker, is promoted to take his place. His advancement forces the Face-Maker to question his ""art"" in performing ""Likeness Operations,"" unanesthetized plastic surgery intended to help the unfortunate improve their lot in society. Latynin's concise text describes this frightening world in matter-of-fact prose, though the details are often nightmarish and outrageous. There are public gardens where citizens may strangle the bird of their choice, and eerie descriptions of sex both mechanical and brutish. In an introduction, Latynin claims that his thought-provoking work is not an Orwellian condemnation of a particular economic, bureaucratic or political system but rather of people enslaved by their own lifelong, oppressive endeavor to improve their ""future prospects."" Latynin points out that he is ""interested less in society's denial of the individual than in a free individual's denial of society."" Intrigued readers who take on this slim but demanding novel will be rewarded by its depth and originality. (Mar.)