This spare, swift 1993 novel explores the professional and emotional burdens borne by Ivan Ardyabev, a "railway forces private" assigned to a train settlement somewhere in rural Russia. The Kafkaesque Zero Train
, which arrives and departs with unfailing precision, bearing an undisclosed cargo, is a perfect metaphor for the implacability of total regimentation, and the bitterness and paranoia it breeds in its dulled "workers." Buida captures their deadening experiences brilliantly in the details of Ardabyev's blind thrusts toward a fuller life, and final act of resistance. A rich, provocative allegory (which might be compared with Victor Pelevin's The Yellow Arrow
)—and a fine introduction to an important contemporary Russian writer.
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