Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Loginov’s Light in the Window

I bought Sviatoslav Loginov’s Свет в окошке (The Light in the Window) solely on the recommendation of friends who’d loved it. I didn’t read a description of the book… so was a little surprised (though I’m not sure why) when an 84-year-old man, Il’ia Il’ich, died in the prologue and then found himself naked, but for a pouch of coins around his neck, in a sort of limbo. He soon wonders what will become of his books.

Loginov creates a vivid picture of the afterlife, where the living dead receive direct deposits into their pouches when people on earth (i.e. those in the first life), remember them. The liveliest people in this limbo reside – somehow, “live” doesn’t feel quite right – in ethnic enclaves that preserve traditions from their home countries; many famous and infamous people, who are remembered constantly, live in a guarded place called The Citadel. Loginov is able to achieve an effect similar to time travel by telling stories of long-term residents; Gogol even makes a cameo appearance.

What I found most interesting in The Light in the Window was Loginov’s exploration of memories of the dead: the reader learns, along with Il’ia Il’ich, how people in this limbo eventually fade away when the earthly people and documents who remember them die out. Loginov sets up interesting situations through Il’ia Il’ich’s relationships with family members who died before him: Il’ia Il’ich never knew his father, his son died young in Angola, and his wife committed suicide. Their interactions with Il’ia Il’ich allow Loginov to elucidate the mechanisms of limbo – such as the eeriness of the ghost phase of existence and the burdens of guarding the Citadel – and emphasize Il’ia Il’ich’s aloneness even before his money wanes. Being undead isn’t easy but Loginov includes some neat tricks that bring in a little fun without feeling too gimmicky: the undead can spend money to fulfill certain wishes, like obtaining the ability to speak other languages.

I can’t recommend The Light in the Window as highly as my friends did because I don’t think Loginov is always successful at combining his fantasy material and his memory material (I can’t quite call it philosophy) into a cohesive novel. But the book is memorable, and I think Loginov does a decent job addressing a dreaded topic without excessive moroseness or sentimentality. I don’t know about you, but I often think about memories and the dead, remembering real people I knew who died and wondering, more abstractly, how long our collective memory of ordinary people lasts. Now, of course, I’ll probably also think of Loginov’s coin-based system – and those automatic deposits into the pouch – when I remember my own friends and relatives who live primarily in the precarious limbo of memories like mine.

Level for Nonnative Readers of Russian: Moderately difficult, 3.5-4/5.

ISBN: 9785699383207

Up Next: Lenoid Iuzefovich’s Казароза (Kazaroza). This must be the first novel I’ve ever read where Esperanto plays a major role.


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