Scottish writer Kalder (Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist, 2006, etc.) offers tales of weird, occult doings in the land of Rasputin.
Unless you’re a longtime reader of Outside—in which Erin Arvedlund did a more economical job of telling the same story—you might not know that the sewers of Moscow, Russia, are home to an odd tribe of postmodern bohemian intellectuals who, tired of the impossibility of utopias aboveground, are trying their hands at creating a paradise below. Some of the subterraneans are more normal than others, relatively speaking, but it’s no easy matter to distinguish those who have lost their marbles and claim to work directly for Vladimir Putin via secret telephone from those who truly do work for Putin via secret telephone (“That connects me directly to the Ministry of Emergency Situations!”). Whatever their motivations and connections, the Diggers, as they’re known, have made a wondrous city beneath the city, a world into which Kalder guides readers. Meanwhile, aboveground, he writes, psychics and clergy are doing a land-office business conducting exorcisms “with the same frequency that plumbers patched up the pipes in the crumbling tower blocks of the former Soviet Union.” One such exorcist divides his time between the underground and the surface world, and Kalder accompanies him on his chases after Satan, “catastrophe surfing” in the quieter corners of the erstwhile Evil Empire. In Siberia, a former traffic cop has concocted a millenarian sci-fi cult that makes cousins such as Scientology look rational. According to them, God is “a light that doesn’t burn, which is cold and white and tender and gentle.” Naturally enough, subterraneans and exorcists figure in it.
A tangled travelogue that lacks much of a thesis beyond the unstated one that the world is a strange place. Too long by a quarter, the narrative frequently drags but is often a hoot to read.