ARDABIOLA by Yevgeny Yevtushenko


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An enigmatic yet resonant little ""fantasy"" by the Soviet poet--beginning with the Moscow-streetcar encounter between a wary girl (she's just had an abortion) and a youngish, divorced man named Ardabiev. Despite her irritation and fearfulness, the girl is near-magically drawn to the strange Ardabiev. He eventually shows her ""Ardabiola"": ""a perfectly ordinary-looking plant with several small green fruit on it,"" which Ardabiev has created--and successfully used (on his terminally ill father)--as a total cure for cancer. (""I extracted a gene from the tse-tse fly chromosome and combined it with a fedyunnik gene""--fedyunnik being a Siberian folk-medicine plant.) Abdabiev, however, has kept this possible miracle-cure a secret--not absolutely sure of its reality, ambivalent about the prospect of becoming the world's ""most important man."" Then he gets news of his father's sudden death--and flies home with the fear that Ardabiola's powers were an illusion; en route, he is touched by instances of human kindness, by the charm (despite some amusing mishaps) of a child aboard the plane--and he arrives at the funeral to learn that his father didn't die of cancer. But this joyous discovery is soon overshadowed by examples of human ugliness (including a savage beating by local hooligans)--which drive the secret knowledge of Ardabiola out of Ardabiev's brain. So, before the upbeat, unconvincing fadeout (Ardabiola itself takes on human qualities, re-inspiring Ardabiev), there's a vivid evocation of lost idealism, lost ambition, lost magic. Far from coherent as a neat fable, then--but the stark/comic vignettes, centering on mortality yet touching on other elementals as well (love, marriage, family, religion), do accumulate in a poem-like way, leaving behind more than a few arresting images and unsettling juxtapositions.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's