Russian postmodernist Sorokin’s English-language debut combines imaginative audacity and stylistic virtuosity in a work that defies categorization.
The first section has the staccato pacing of hard-boiled pulp fiction, and it’s about as subtle as the hammer to the human chest that opens the breathlessly paced narrative. A secret Russian sect is attempting to “awaken” the hearts of those who might qualify as kindred spirits. They must be blonde-haired and blue-eyed. When they are struck in the chest with a hammer made of ice, which later reveals its peculiar interstellar properties, they are likely to lose consciousness in the brain while gaining consciousness in the heart, which murmurs the new name of the blessed one. If there is no murmur, the body can be discarded as an empty vessel; those who awaken discover a heart-to-heart connection that is like the wordless bliss of extended orgasm. The second section offers a backstory narrated in a very different voice. Fourteen-year-old Varya Samsikova describes her removal from the Russian countryside and transportation to Nazi Germany, the original home of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed master race. In Germany, Varya becomes one of the “awakened,” learns about their origins and returns to her native Russia in search of kindred spirits. There she ultimately suffers from totalitarian persecution that suggests the Soviet Union has plenty in common with the nation that was so recently its enemy in World War II. Varya’s account extends from her teenage war experiences through the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The novel culminates in two much shorter sections that flash forward to a future when the ice has become a self-administered instrument of both spiritual salvation and entertainment, the next step beyond the digital revolution. Its adherents make some strange claims, but not much stranger than those associated with Scientology or est.
A page-turner with provocative implications.