Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You and Me and Both of Us

You won't find this one on IMDb, Тыда яда мы с тобой, a fun short film featuring Sergei Makovetsky (Сергей Маковецкий) and Vladimir Steklov (Владимир Стеклов) as brothers maintaining an isolated train depot.  When one of them gets a tattoo of the girl he loves, Katya, it threatens this uneasy relationship.  The film dates back to 2001.  It is broken up over three parts on Youtube.  Part one above, and here are links to part two and part three.  Sorry, no English subtitles.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the Dark Side of the Moon

You get the feeling Viktor Pelevin read quite a bit of Kurt Vonnegut, as he had great fun with the decaying Soviet space program in his first novel, Omon Ra.  The introductory chapters are pretty much background for the story, which sees two boyhood friends dreaming of flying to the moon while at pioneer camp.  You don't really get the full impact of the story until the two find themselves in a flight training camp named after the famed fighter ace, Alexei Mariesiev.  Eventually, they are shipped out to the cosmonaut program where they undergo a rigorous set of exams including a reincarnation test.

It's a brisk read, as Pelevin leads you on a journey of discovery quite unlike any other.  The Soviet Union finds itself in a battle with the USA in keeping up the appearances of a space program during the Brezhnev era.  Even a great bear hunt for the visiting Henry Kissinger was staged, with disastrous consequences, as related in a story to "Ommy" by a blind, wheelchair bound general, who becomes his mentor.  Omon and his buddy Mitiok soon find themselves pitted against each other, much like Gagarin and Titov, to further Soviet scientific studies on the dark side of the moon.

This cosmic journey is peppered with a number of fun references.  There's even a cameo appearance by Laika, a very aged space dog in a general's jacket and cap.  Belka and Strelka also make appearances in a climactic chase scene.  Although you figure out where this narrative is headed long before you reach the final chapters, the story doesn't lose its impact, thanks largely to Pelevin's wonderful sense of irony.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Slouching toward Moscow

I see there is a paperback version of The Slynx now available through New York Review of Books.  I ordered an earlier hardback published by Houghton Mifflin with a much more evocative cover.  The NYR copy is the same translation by Jamey Gambrell, so you can take your pick.  I'm not sure when Tatyana Tolstaya originally penned the book, but it was sometime in the 1990s at the height of the corruption that plagued Russia, and in particular Moscow, no doubt lending to the dystopic futuristic world she imagines in this novel.  

Tolstaya is best known for her unvarnished criticism and trenchant essays of post-Soviet Russia.  Pushkin's Children is well worth reading.  She has no soft spot for Putin, even if a certain amount of stability has emerged in the wake of the wild and woolly 90s.  Since then, she has taken her acerbic wit to the airwaves, co-hosting a popular television show, The School for Scandal.  Here's a clip from an episode featuring Grebenshchikov for Russian speakers.  My wife would help translate some of the content.   Tolstaya came from a literary family (as her name implies), and has tried more than most writers to maintain a high level of discourse in a very fractured society.