Friday, February 28, 2014

Chapayev and Void

I still find myself waiting for a translation of Viktor Pelevin's latest book, SNUFF.  In the meantime I've gone back and read some of his earlier titles and recently ordered Buddha's Little Finger.  The English translation dates from 2000 and was reviewed in The New York Times.  It first appeared as  Чапаев и Пустота (Chapayev and Void) in 1996, and under the title Clay Machine Gun in the UK.

Pelevin revisits that chaotic time when Gorbacev was desperately trying to hold the crumbling Soviet Union together through the eyes of a poet, Pyotr Voyd, who has run afoul of authorities over a couple poems he had published in an underground newspaper.  Once again we get a character caught between two worlds, trying to make sense of the mechanisations behind the world we see, not much unlike in Generation π.

What makes all his books interesting is the way he plays with time and space, much like Kurt Vonnegut, who I imagine is one of his literary heroes.  Pelevin also has a great sense of the consumerist society we live in and how easy it is to manipulate people, both politically and commercially.  Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions comes to mind.  However, there is a spiritual side to Pelevin as well.  He takes Buddhism quite seriously.  Here's an interview with him conducted by Leo Kropywiansky for Bomb magazine.

It is also worth noting that a film based on the novel is in post-production and due out this year.  It is an international production with a joint Russian-German-Canadian cast and will be in English.  His only other book to be made into a film was Generation π.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Maidan Nezalezhnosti

Watching the Sochi Olympic Games and viewing the unrest in Ukraine these past two weeks has inspired me to kickstart this forum once again.  I greatly appreciate that persons are still looking in and that there is actually a couple new followers.  It's a one-man show and I encourage those looking in to drop comments.

A few months back I found an early English edition of Tolstoy's Sebastopol Sketches.  It is a real treat as it is a cloth-covered pocket book that dates back to 1887.  Apparently, there wasn't much call for a rare book such as this and I didn't pay too much money for it.  Tolstoy was a young man, who served in an artillery regiment during the Crimean War.  Here is a 1916 copy, courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Once again Ukraine finds itself on the battlefront, although this one seems to be more over identity, which nearly erupted into a civil war this month.  Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed, but now there is talk of secession in the East, notably in Crimea.  Boundaries have always been subject to change, and Ukraine has probably suffered more than any other European country due to wars and annexation.

For many Russians, Ukraine is part of Russia.  They don't see it as a distinct nation.  The Pan-slavs like Dostoevsky saw all of the Slavic people as part of Mother Russia.  A feeling that most Russian writers shared, particularly Gogol, whose xenophobic views were on full display in Taras Bulba.  Even today, one hears Gorbacev and other leaders evoking a Greater Russia that would include Ukraine.

Understandably, many Ukrainians don't feel the same way.  Oleksandr Prylypko has written this engaging commentary on the nationalist fervor of the Russian intelligentsia, particularly in regard to events taking place in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the main square of Kiev. For Ukranians it is a matter of national identity, not this continual living under the Russian shadow.  But, imperial notions are hard to shake.  It is easier to reflect these attitudes onto the European Union than it is to see those same traits in yourself, as many in the Russian intelligentsia have long been doing.