by Olga Slavnikova
translated by Marian Schwartz
(The Overlook Press, 2010)
It wouldn't be summer if I didn't pick up a Russian novel. Though I received my review copy of 2017 by Olga Slavnikova back in March, I decided to save it for summer. Instead of dipping my brain into Lit Light, I prefer the dark, soulfulness of Russian Lit during the blazing heat (or cool fog) of summer. (There must be a support group for people like me).
My favorite Russian translator, Marian Schwartz, did the translation for this 2006 Book prize winning novel. True to form, she lets the Russian language penetrate each English line. This leads to moments of intense lyricism ...
"He remembered both the reseved seats on the train, which was permeated throughout with sadness of the long sunset lying low over the steppe, and the unfamiliar taste of crooked green apples bought at the station -- a taste like cotton wool and medicine from the pharmacy."
... and occasionally, when the lyricism takes over, makes one abandon the need to make sense of what one's reading.
"Krylov saw a petrified cinema that demonstrated the struggle between the oriented field of the crystal, its unimaginably slow rocket launch, accomplished in its own time, into space, and the chaos of horizontal events and ordinary time crumbled into small coarse bits."
2017 true to its Russian roots, is not easy to wrestle into submission. The story alternates between Krylov, a gemcutter looking for love, and his mentor Professor Anfilogov, looking for gems in the wilds of the Riphean Mountains (a region loosely based on the Ural Mountains). In 2017, earth spirits as devious as Puck and as beautiful as Titania intervene in the quests of both Krylov and Anfilogov. Those looking for the remnants of the Communist Revolution of 1917 will find its echos in this novel's class distinctions and the determination of each character to pursue their individual (rather than communal) passions with greed and determination. While reading this book leaves me weary, it's a good weary -- the kind you feel after an intense workout.
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