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A WEREWOLF PROBLEM IN CENTRAL RUSSIA by Victor Pelevin

A WEREWOLF PROBLEM IN CENTRAL RUSSIA

and Other Stories

By Victor Pelevin

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8112-1394-3
Publisher: New Directions

A fascinating collection of eight surpassingly strange stories, the second to have won Russia’s Booker Prize by the young author of Omon Ra (1996) and The Blue Lantern (1997). Pelevin’s Russia is a moribund, often surreal Wonderland whose decimated forests resemble “the sickly offspring of an alcoholic” and in which “Black swans . . . swimming in a pool, . . . [are] all actually enchanted KGB agents.” His characters are naive Everymen unhinged by dizzying political and social changes—like the computer-game designer (in “Prince of Gosplan”) whose own labyrinthine desires and hangups deliriously coexist with his company’s creations; or the woman who cleans public toilets (in “Vera Pavlovna’s Ninth Dream”) and finds in the blessings brought by Perestroika paradoxical evidence of the truism “that we ourselves create the world around us”; or the student who perceives that his culture’s vast communal indifference and ennui have taken universal narcoleptic form (“Sleep”). Excess discursive commentary weakens “The Tarzan Swing” and “The Ontology of Childhood,” but most of these stories hum right along, enlivened by the author’s T.C. Boyle—like genius for mind-bending comic and satiric conceptions. In “Bulldozer Driver’s Day,” for example, a worker’s injury in an industrial accident on a “hydrogen bomb assembly line” requires a frantic coverup, in a richly imagined farce that evokes Chernobyl while also deftly parodying Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” The doublespeak implicit in international relations and the Communist glorification of Chairman Mao are subtly skewered in “Tai Shou Chuan USSR (A Chinese Folk Tale).” And the wonderful title story memorably depicts the subjection of individual will to “communal” order in an agreeably wild tale of a young vagrant’s acceptance into a coven of businesslike lycanthropes. Pelevin’s best work reaches levels of satire and fantasy that recall such Russian masters of the thinking-man’s grotesque as Gogol, Bulgakov, and Zoshchenko. Marvelous fiction.