Tatyana Tolstaya was born into the Russian aristocratic family of Tolstoy. You might be thinking, as was I, would that happen to be the Leo Tolstoy family? Why in fact it is! I wasn't able to trace down exactly how she is related to Leo, but in several articles it mentions her relationship to the Russian literary giant. Her grandfather, Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi, was also a well respected writer who wrote the book "Peter l".
Tolstaya has a literary blue-blood heritage that gives her a leg up in the publishing world. The Russian publishers had to be wiping the saliva from their chins at the thought of having another Tolstoy to publish. But can the woman write, can she make Leo Tolstoy proud? YES!!!
In my humble opinion she delivered a masterpiece. A wonderfully inventive book that Leo would have read with awe and delight. The book is part of the New York Review Books classic series that are of such high quality I often wonder why I'm not reading more of them. Here is a link to their website. http://www.nybooks.com/books/
Our hero is Benedikt and he is living in a post-apocalyptic world where rabbits are toxic, food in general is scarce, and nearly everyone is exhibiting Consequences
as a result of THE BLAST
event that happened 200 years ago. Benedikt transcribes old books, written before the THE BLAST
, and they are presented to the world as the writings of their leader Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. The scribes begin to question that the writing style of their dear leader changes so much from book to book, but it is best not to have any association with Freethinking.
Anytime you feel different than you should you must be careful. "When you growl through your teeth, grumble and grouse--the anger feels good, it kind of rolls around all prickly warm inside you. You wanna show off your strength. Kick a fence. Or a dog if you meet one. Or smack one of the guys around. Whatever. There are all kinds of things you can do. But sometimes you don't feel like getting mad. It's like there's a sadness inside. Like you feel sorry for someone. Must be feelosophy.
Bureaucrats control every faze of their existence. These are for the most part self appointed people who have taken over collecting taxes, rationing of script, and managing the distribution of goods. Most are corrupt and cut a fat hog while the rest of the population is near starvation. The main source of protein and bartering power comes from one little critter that most of us don't even want to contemplate adding to our diet, and certainly it makes me shiver to think of my survival depending on my ability to build a better mouse trap.
Trade is determined by how many mice something is worth. Benedikt carries them around in braces under his jacket to barter them for more variety in his food diet. When he goes to see the widow Marfushka he must have enough mice for the legs to part. "Benedikt went to see the widow woman Marfushka about the woman business: maybe once or twice a week, but he'd always go to see Marfushka. You couldn't exactly say she was pretty. In fact, her whole face was sort of crooked, like someone hit her with a battle ax. And one eye wandered. Her figure wasn't all that great either. She was shaped like a turnip. But she didn't have any Consequences. She was rounded out where she out to be and caved in where she out to be. After all, he didn't visit her to look at her, but to take care of the woman business. If looking's what you want--well, you can go out on the street and look until your eyes pop out."
Benedikt's life takes an abrupt turn when he decides in a moment of starry eyed lust to ask the beautiful Olenka to marry him. Her family is wealthy and part of his new father-in-law's job is to track down old books. It is illegal to own books printed before the blast and even though most of the population has been made afraid of being in the same room as a "toxic" book from the past there are still people brave enough to squirrel books away in old wells or hidden in walls. It is a life changing moment for Benedikt when he finds that his father-in-law has a room full of books, and once Benedikt gets over his inherent superstitions, and begins to read, he is absolutely lost to the world of books. He inhales them. He spends so much time reading that his wife complains that he isn't paying attention to her anymore. He begins helping his father-in-law to find more books. He becomes an insane (more than just gently mad) bibliophile. He becomes desperate when he realizes that he has...READ THEM ALL.
His father-in-law, a few cards short of a full deck, dangles the prospect of liberating the books held by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe and what ensues is not only hilarious, but a wonderfully constructed piece of social commentary.
The world after the blast has slid backwards. Food is an issue. There is never enough of it and too much of what used to be a staple of the Russian table has proven to still be toxic from the blast. Half-human, four-legged Degenenerator's are used to pull sleighs, and the sarcastic word exchanges between one in particular and Benedikt elicited more than one snicker from me. The book receives high marks for originality, humor, and "feelosophy". "Don't you shake your beard at meeee!
I with utmost confidence HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book.