A country doctor holding the cure to a zombie epidemic struggles through an impossibly stubborn blizzard.
“You have to understand, I simply must keep going!” shouts the frenetic protagonist of this phantasmagoric comic novel as it opens. “There are people waiting for me! They are sick. There’s an epidemic! Don’t you understand?!” Somehow it’s fitting that this third novel in translation by the Russian genius Sorokin (Day of the Oprichnik, 2011, etc.) begins with such urgency even as the author throws every fantastic obstacle imaginable in front of his irascible hero. The man in question is Platon Ilich Garin, a doctor who's in possession of the cure for a mysterious disease that turns its victims into zombies. The outbreak is in the village of Dolgoye, and the good doctor is desperately trying to book passage there, but a snowstorm stymies his efforts at every turn. Frustrated, he hires dimwitted driver Crouper to take him through the tempest, but the storm quickly drives them back. “Don’t even dare think about it,” says the doctor. “The lives of honest workers are in danger! This is an affair of state, man. You and I don’t have the right to turn back. It wouldn’t be Russian. And it wouldn’t be Christian.” Garin is a constantly amusing presence, coming off like Chekhov as channeled by Christopher Lloyd. It’s through him that Sorokin gives voice to his own frustration with the persistence of Russia’s authoritarian culture and its refusal to yield. But the book is stylistically interesting as well. At first it unfolds like a comic play, but as the book progresses, Sorokin crafts an increasingly psychedelic landscape that takes strange turns when Garin trips his brains out. Ultimately, the story doesn’t so much resolve as end, with the arrival of Chinese invaders. It’s not quite a redemption song, but Sorokin surely deserves credit for his madcap imagination.
A strange, distinctly Russian diversion for readers looking for something completely different.