HOMO SOVIETICUS by Alexander Zinoviev


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Zinoviev's acidic but ample comedy The Yawning Heights (1979) was a philosophical farce peopled with miserable modern Russian intellectuals trying to out-absurd an already almost unimaginably absurd existence. He's essentially moved these same characters to the West now--to Germany, where they've settled in exile--and let their dissidence-without-a-home stew them liberally. Whiner, Writer, Dissident, Cynic, Inspirer, they show up periodically here in short sections that piece together a picture of slaves disgusted with a freedom that they don't know how to appreciate: ""'Here there are millions of people who are ready to betray all the values of Western civilization. It's my tenth year here. And I've yet to find a single committed defender of these values. It's only among us Soviet people that defenders of the West's ideal can be found.'"" But jaundiced mordancy arises, and the comic personalities of Zinoviev's earlier books are largely dissolved here into cynical attitudes. There's a little bit of intellectual slapstick--the thing Zinoviev does best--but by giving his capitalized types little or nothing to do by way of action or long conversation, they seem largely wasted. The characters wobble within their predicament but that's about it. Thin, repetitive work by a writer who has dredged this channel far deeper and more impressively in the past.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1986
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown