THE YELLOW ARROW by Victor Pelevin


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 An enigmatic novella, whose suggestive central image strikingly encapsulates the character of post-Soviet society and, more generally, the fate of man--from the prize-winning Russian author of Omon Ra (see above). Protagonist Andrei is riding on a train called the Yellow Arrow, whose destination, he learns, is a ruined bridge. Passengers die, their funerals are held on board the train, and their bodies are thrown ``out there'' beyond the passing embankments. ``World culture takes a long time to reach us,'' Andrei's fellow travellers complain, enduring their closeted state as best they can by practicing an indigenous ``folk art'' (the train does a thriving business in handpainted beer cans) and also the religion of ``bedeism'' (the belief that they're being pulled along by a ``B.D. 3'' locomotive). One thinks, inevitably, of a cramped and repressed population unable to break free of its imprisoning environment--but Pelevin's wry fable earns a convincingly wider resonance. Andrei guesses that the train may be named as it is because its lateral motion visually resembles the vertical descent of falling stars (``yellow arrows'') in the foreordained transit from incandescence to extinction. He shares the common yearning to journey ``out there'' past his compartment's windows, while knowing he can do so only when his own portion of the train's journey is concluded. Imagine Hermann Hesse with a robust sense of humor, and you'll have an idea of the complex emotional texture Pelevin manages to create for his story's climactic moment--a climax that daringly evokes, and does not suffer from comparison with, Tolstoy's great short novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich. A brilliant parable that treats a dauntingly abstract conception with vivid specificity and clear-eyed humanity.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8112-1324-2
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996


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