A Slovak tribal chief attends Harvard Law School in order to gain the skills to save his tribe in Boldizar’s debut satire.
Muzhduk the Ugli, the Fourth, the leader of a tribe in northeastern Siberia, triumphantly defends a challenge to his chieftainship by winning the Dull-Boulder Throw. But in order to solidify his leadership status, the 300-pound Slovak must climb a mountain that’s higher than those scaled by previous chiefs, including his father. Mount Baldhead in the Verkhoyansk Range appears to be ideal, but then a group of Americans shows up there, claiming that they’ve purchased it from the Russian government. Furthermore, an attorney with a law degree from Harvard University bamboozles Muzhduk and his father into signing over tribal land. Soon, Muzhduk is intent on applying to Harvard himself, seeing it as his metaphorical mountain; specifically, he wants to gain the proper vernacular to defeat the American lawyer at his own game. Despite a perfect LSAT score, he has trouble gaining admittance to the school, but he ultimately takes the place of another student, Peggy Roundtree, who gave up her spot. A concurrent plotline follows Muzhduk in Mali, a year or so later, searching for Peggy. It appears that some governments in Africa have declared Peggy a terrorist, and after rebels kidnap her, Muzhduk seeks to help her with his newfound weapon of words. Boldizar’s lampoons of legal arguments are largely successful even if the frequent classroom discussions don’t always make sense. For example, Muzhduk makes a point about a well-known 1994 lawsuit against McDonald’s by contrasting buying hot coffee with slavery. It is, however, amusing to watch a man who’s accustomed to settling disputes physically engage in a “word-throwing battle.” The novel’s humor carries into its occasional surreal moments, such as Muzhduk’s interactions with a small, blue-furred, and possibly imaginary bear named Pooh (which the Slovak says might be a possible copyright violation). The scenes set in Mali are often tense, as the rebels feel like a genuine threat. Translated Slovak curses are sometimes offensive but consistently hilarious, such as “May your mother recognize you in kebab meat.”
A bizarre but delightful sendup of illogical arguments.