ASTROPHOBIA by Sasha Sokolov


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Russian ‚migr‚ Sokolov (A School for Fools, 1988--not reviewed) here offers the purported memoirs of a Russian head of state who knows (or is related to) almost everybody. Most notable for its rich Rabelaisian style, the book's farcical indulgences can be hilarious or merely hysterical. Palisander Dahlberg writes from the year 2044. Related to Beria and Rasputin, favorite of Stalin and Andropov and a sort of Kremlin mascot, he is told by ""Uncle Nikita"" that he is ""a hard nut to crack. But born to lead."" And the story that follows glories in its implausibility, ""a stream-of-consciousness of words,"" a frowned-upon ""freethinking lyricism"": the self-mocking Dahlberg writes his memoirs even as he lampoons the genre with skilled strokes and deprecation. After the death of Stalin (in which he plays a minor role), he is sent as steward to The New Virgin, a Government Massage Parlor, and the ensuing anecdotal parade of picaresque episodes includes a good deal of sexual bravado and intrigue. Dahlberg also meets Beckett (who expostulates on the worthlessness of Godot); tries to shoot Brezhnev (puncturing a wax figure instead): and survives jail to write his Prison Diary (""another House of the Dead? . .Yes, another Dostoevsky!"" a critic exults) and to become a celebrity and self-publicist (he also writes Proustian Reminiscences of Old Age). The chronicle turns capricious as Dahlberg meets C.J. Jung, ""Baul Sellow,"" and the diabolical Princess Majorette, among others, before ending ""tastelessly and slowly,"" lost among ""the inevitable foliage of neither-here-nor-there literature."" At best, a paean to vibrancy and to life (""Long live existence!"") worthy of Falstaff; but also too often impressed with its own excess.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Grove