Monday, November 22, 2010

How Far Away Is 2042? & Misc.

Though Vladimir Voinovich’s (Москва 2042) Moscow 2042 doesn’t feel quite as fresh now as it did when it came out in the ‘80s – will people anywhere watch TV in 2042? – it’s still plenty fun, and it still feels painfully relevant. I think the last name of one of the characters, “Karnavalov,” sums up a lot about the book: this satirical, dystopian novel written by an exiled writer certainly serves up a nice dose of carnival and, of course, absurdity.

So what happens? In 1982, Kartsev, a Russian writer living in Germany, boards a special Lufthansa flight that takes him to 2042 Moscow. Some of Kartsev’s acquaintances from his years in the Soviet Union – including Sim Simych Karnavalov, a reclusive writer who rather resembles Solzhenitsyn – express interest in his travel. I don’t think it will surprise many readers when they reappear in 2042 Moscow. Moscow in 2042 is ruled by a leader called the Genialissimus whose real name (sort of) is Berii Ilich Vzroslyi. His first two names refer to past leaders, and his last translates to “adult.” The names are part of the book’s fun: other characters include Dzerzhin (from Dzerzhinskii) and Gorizont (horizon).

Voinovich works a lot into less than 400 pages. There’s Kartsev’s writerly jealously of Karnavalov, a 2042 regime that combines religion with politics (hmm…), very funny scenes of collective writing processes, reflections on reality, and lots of poop humor. I’ll take Voinovich’s writing about “secondary” material over Sorokin’s any day, particularly since most of it – such as Kartsev finding himself in the “Third Kaka” – makes a point without being ponderous. Citizens in 2042 turn in their waste so they may eat… and there are multiple mentions of that staple Russian food, sausage. Moscow 2042 also includes references to classic literature, a special showing of Dallas, word play in the names of communist institutions, and a special isolation for Moscow. I don’t want to write more, lest I spoil the fun. I’ve always enjoyed Voinovich and would certainly recommend Moscow 2042 to anyone who enjoys dystopian satire, a bit of time travel, and humor both high and low. Moscow 2042 is available in translation.

The Big Book Award announced today that Viktor Pelevin’s t won its readers’ choice award; 8,615 readers voted over the Internet. Evgenii Kliuev’s Андерманир штук (Something Else for You) was second-most popular among readers; the book was a little too messy and wandering for me to love but I’m sure it won readers over with its magical atmosphere and positivity (previous post). Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Чертово колесо (The Devil’s Wheel), which I did love, took third (previous post). The jury’s selections will be named tomorrow.

My blogger colleague Marie Cloutier, a.k.a. Boston Bibliophile, interviewed me as part of her November Russo-Biblio Extravaganza. I thoroughly enjoyed answering her questions but it’s been even more fun reading her takes on some Russian books I should read one of these days. I’m especially looking forward to her thoughts on Moscow 2042.

Up Next: I’m still mulling over Dovlatov’s underwhelming Zone and working my way through Baldaev’s Drawings from the Gulag, a unique and important book that I’ve been reading in small installments. I’m continuing the theme by rereading Solzhenitsyn’s (In) The First Circle. More immediately: I’ll report on the Big Book Award winners tomorrow…

Sausage photo credit: adauzie, via


  1. You and BB have kindled a desire in me and that's to read enough Russian Literature as possible. thanks for this and I loved it.

  2. Thanks for the comment -- I'm glad to hear of your interest in Russian fiction!

  3. 2042 is fun. I'm about 3/4 of the way through and I can see it's going to be tough to summarize because I don't want to spoil too much; you did a good job! I like the combo of Brave New World and pre-Perestroika Communism. It's weird and funny and somewhat disturbing. I like how quickly "Classic" starts to internalize what's going on and I wonder what's in store for the final chapters!

    Nana, I hope you find some good stuff! I'm so glad to hear you're interested in Russian lit because of what Lisa adn I are doing; you've certainly kindled an interest in Ghanian lit in me!

  4. Marie, I'm glad you're enjoying the book, too... I'm very much looking forward to reading your post about it! The negative side of reading Moscow 2042 was that I had a horrible time figuring out what to read next. It's a tough one to follow.

    Reading Broken Glass, which I thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year, rekindled my interest in African literature, and I have some unread classics on my shelves that are waiting for me. Nana's site is a great resource.

  5. I wonder if Voinovich was thinking of the long-forgotten novelist Alexei Kartsev when he named his character? Kartsev's Magistral' (The Main Line, 1934) was about the building of a railway line.

  6. Hmm, I don't know, Languagehat. All I can say is that I was reminded of "карцер" whenever I read the name. I don't know if Voinovich intended the association, but the character does spend some of his time in some unusual places, including, as punishment, a prison cell (not solitary confinement) and a very low-rent hotel. Kartsev is also often on his own, if only metaphorically, at difficult times.

    As Marie mentioned, Kartsev is called "Classic" in 2042 Moscow.