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.

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