Friday, 15 June 2012

Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich (4.5/5)

The back says: Vitaly Kartsev, Soviet writer in exile, has only his curiosity to blame for the plane flight which passes him through a time warp to land in Moscow – in 2042. Here Marx’s vision has reached absurd proportions – there is a Bureau of Natural Functions and a Palace of Love. Kartsev survives his first encounter with a KGB agent disguised in lederhosen. But it is another writer in exile, the towering, moralising, authoritarian figure of Sim Simych Karnalov, who may yet prevent his confrontation with the Keepers of the Kremlin...

I say: This was a pure delight to read and I have now managed to add yet another Russian author to my endless list of favourites. Moscow 2042 is written as a novel by Vitaly Kartsev who is writing about his adventure to the future. I am not even going to begin to try to summarise what happens because, quite frankly, there’s just too much of it – and too absurd to even put into words.

Which is exactly why I loved it.

The Moscow of 2042 that Kartsev eventually winds up in is considered to be the embodiment of communism. But, as always with these dystopian science fiction novels, the more we find out about the society, the less perfect we realise that it is. This is a place where you turn in your excrement in exchange for food coupons. It’s place where in order to get a library card you have to apply for it inside the library, yet they won’t let you in to the library unless you have a library card. It’s a place where the ‘rebels’ show films on the clouds, which the government then disperses.

In other words, it’s the perfect satire.

I laughed out loud for the most part; shook my head in confusion and quiet dismay, all the time wondering how much of Kartsev was based on Voinovich himself (who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1980 – this book was published in 1986 before the fall of the Soviet Union). It magnifies the reading experience to know a bit about life in the Soviet Union and communism, but it’s not really necessary; the story can stand on its own, but then I guess the satire and references are sort of reduced to nothing.

Hmmm...

Either way, the writing is witty enough to stand on its own – as is the random ludicrousness that ensues. And the best part is the ingenious way the novel ends. We get a sense of it somewhere in the middle, but just as I was trying to figure out the details I was waylaid by all the descriptions of the society in 2042. And then when the end came I really just wanted to give it a standing ovation.

It’s that good.

The reason I’m taking away 0.5 points is because some of the plot was a tad too ridiculous, even for me. Nevertheless, this is an instant favourite and deserves, in my humble opinion, to be right up there with the other dystopian classics. And yes, there are some influences by We, 1984 (which is mentioned in here – huzzah) and Brave New World, but this is still a standalone piece of brilliance.

4 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to read this for quite some time now but can't seem to get my hands on a copy. Wherever did you find yours? I guess it's not that well known, unfortunately. Great review though! You just made me want to read it even more!

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  2. I ordered a used copy on Amazon (mine's an older version with a different cover than the one shown above) after I had trouble finding a new one that wasn't ridiculously expensive for a paperback. My online book store is selling all of his books with ridiculous pricing (4x normal reatail price), so I'll be back on Amazon searching for the rest.

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  3. I've never heard of this book before but it checks off a lot of the boxes of things I like in a book (satire, politics, Russia, etc.). I went to Ukraine last year and was absolutely amazed at how many vestiges of Communism still exist. There's sickles and hammers everywhere. One of the subway stations is filled with Marxist quotes. It really ignited an interest in reading more about the Soviet Union and also of Russia (there is not many books in English, fiction or non-fiction on Ukraine) in the present day just because of the whole "the more things change, the more they stay the same" sort of things that are going on in the country now.

    I'm definitely going to have to look for this book. I'm only sorry that it doesn't seem to be more widely available.

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    1. I don't know of any Ukranian authors off the top of my head (apart from Gogol, but since it belonged to the Soviet Union back then I always refer to him as Russian). It's a shame, really. And not just Ukraine, all of the former Soviet states. I should turn that into a reading challenge next year.

      And I agree that it's a shame that this book isn't more widely known - I don't know enough about the author or the book's history to even begin to speculate (but I'll find out and spread the word).

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