Monday, August 24, 2009

A Novel and a Story from German Sadulaev

Sadulaev, Take One: German Sadulaev’s new novel A.D. gets off to a promising start, lamenting winter holiday overload and letdowns. (Sign me up!) Sadulaev quickly segues into a description of an office holiday party at a casino: the advertising director playing Dionysus, people drinking too much and sneaking into dark corners. A scream breaks up the party when the boss is discovered, dead in the men’s room, victim of a fork to the heart.

With the initial decadence and death, plus the fact that the Russian word ад (ad) means “Hell,” A.D. sets itself up from the start as a carnivalesque thriller-detective sort of novel with a few twists.

Russian critic Lev Danilkin writes on that A.D. ends up in smoking ruins, and he gives the book the distinction of being “один из самых уникальных случаев саморазрушения в литературе…” (“one of the most unique instances of self-destruction in literature…”). Alas, I can’t disagree. I attribute that problem to a lack of motion in the book. If a novel never really goes anywhere, it’s tough to write a logical ending. Only one plot line moves much: a somewhat hardboiled investigator, Kataev, a bachelor who loves creating meals out of frozen foods after a borshch-soaked childhood, investigates the murder.

But the other characters seem to exist for Sadulaev to stuff their mouths with dialogue about gender, duality, and philosophy, to augment Kataev’s research into intersexuality. It feels as if Sadulaev wrote “content” rather than characterizing or plotting, and the result is a lot of material, some of it moderately funny, that ends up feeling devoid of context and, ultimately, literary meaning.

The book also contains a passel of office words borrowed from English plus numerous cultural references, some satirical… Dale Carnegie (again!), Christopher Hitchens’s article for Vanity Fair about Mother Teresa, the Russian musical group ВИА Гра (VIA Gra) known here as “Фуa-Гра” (Foie Gras, get it?), and many others are all here. All told, though I found A.D. pretty disappointing, it was a fitting diversion in a hellish heat wave.

Sadulaev, Take Two: Tin House’s anthology Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia, edited by Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker, contains an excerpt from Sadulaev’s book Я – чеченец! (I Am a Chechen!). I think I would describe the excerpt, Почему не падает небо [page down to find this piece of the text] (“Why the Sky Doesn’t Fall”) as a stream-of-consciousness piece that feels like fictionalized memoir as it describes the destruction of lives, families, and property during the Chechen War. “Why the Sky” is at once lyrical, mystical, and political, and its characters, despite small roles, feel far more memorable than anyone in A.D. because Sadulaev writes here about things that hurt. Anna Gunin’s translation captures the original’s combination of dreaminess and harsh reality.

Rasskazy’s brief bio of Sadulaev mentions that Harvill Secker will publish I Am a Chechen! in the U.K. in 2010. Amazon shows its release date as January 6, 2011.

I’ll be writing more about Rasskazy over the coming weeks. The book contains an interesting mix of stories by young authors, including Zakhar Prilepin, whose short story collection Грех (Sin) I liked so much, and several other book prize winners and finalists. Rasskazy will be released September 1, 2009.

Rasskazy on Amazon


  1. Interesting stuff -- I wasn't aware of this writer. Isn't the excerpt you link to "Апокрифы Чеченской войны" rather than "Почему не [not "на"] падает небо"?

  2. Thank you for catching the typo, Languagehat! "Почему не падает небо" is part of "Апокрифы" -- I added a note to page down. (I debated with myself about whether to include that or not; I guess I came out on the wrong side!)

    Sadulaev's Таблетка was a Booker and NatsBest finalist. Sadulaev is an Ad Marginem writer: here's his page on their site. I give Ad Marginem a lot of credit for making such nice pages for their writers. And for including criticism, positive and negative.

  3. "Апокрифы чеченской войны" is in fact a lengthy excerpt from the book "Я -- чеченец".

  4. Thank you, Anna, for the note. And congratulations on the publication of Rasskazy.

  5. Thanks Lisa. You have a wonderful site here!

  6. Thank you very much, Anna! I appreciate your kind comment.

    Please feel free to update me on the status of your translations. I want to do a better job mentioning translations.