cover image The Librarian

The Librarian

Mikhail Elizarov, trans. from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. Pushkin (, $18.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-78227-027-0

Elizarov's novel, winner of the 2008 Russian Booker Prize, is a satire about the absurdity of blind faith and the way people fool themselves into believing in systems in which they are forced to inhabit. A clear jab at Soviet Communism, Elizarov's dystopia is evasively but cleverly set at the end of the Soviet era. Books written by an obscure Soviet apologist named Gromov, when read all the way through without stopping, give ordinary folks superpowers%E2%80%94inordinate courage, terrible fury, and the sweetest of memories. Rival libraries and reading rooms spring up to protect the remaining copies of these books, and their disciples fight violent wars against each other to possess them. Old women murder widowers with indiscriminate and bloody violence; the lonely and displaced fight to the death to retain the right to read and gain strength from what appears on the surface to be trite Soviet-era propaganda. Into this absurd world steps the ignorant Alexei. Arriving at his dead Uncle Maxim's place to tidy up the deceased man's affairs, the useless young nephew is persuaded instead to become heir to Maxim's position as Librarian of one of the Gromov factions. Alexei is an unwilling and cowardly convert until he reads his first book, which causes an upheaval of epic proportion in his meaningless life. Though the pacing of the novel is erratic and the cast of characters too large, this chaotic tale puts a magical twist on its satire. (Feb.)