Jan 30, 2009

Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich (Владимир Войнович)

Moscow 2042

I'm not a student of either Russian politics or literature,, so I'm sure plenty of the deeper meaning (and possibly the jokes) passed me by on this one. That being said, I'm enough a child of the Cold War - and Voinovich is enough of a writer - that I didn't feel lost or let down. My sister asked what I was reading. I showed it to her and said, "It's funny as hell. It's a lot funnier than it looks from the cover." She, of course, replied, "It would have to be."

Moscow 2042 came out in 1986, written just a few years before perestroika and glasnost and the reforms that swept through the USSR. If you were around back then, you know the images that the American public received of life under communism - bread lines, ridiculous bureaucracy, censorship, drab clothing, heavy vodka drinking, plenty of propaganda at work. Interestingly, that's nearly exactly how Voinovich portrays his dystopian version of communism at work. Now, I have no real idea how day to day life in Moscow went in the early 80s, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't quite as glum as we were led to believe. Reading this one boosted that feeling - if it was already that bad, the dystopian, possible future would have been a hell of a lot worse.

I wondered a few things while I read this one. Who is he satirizing with his working class writer hero, ready to ride into Moscow on a white horse and be declared Tsar? How much of what he was satirizing was already happening and how much was extrapolation? And what is up with so many writers giving their late-middle-age alter egos young, willing, sexually gifted women to fuck? I mean, sure, I get it. But really? Were there honestly that many Russian spy babes out to rub their naughty bits up on aging writers? I doubt it. Probably helps keep warm, though.

But there were still plenty of tasty little bits to enjoy. The horrors of vegetarian pork. The concept of food and shit and whether one is the other. Long bills on caps to prevent the people from looking at movies projected on the clouds. I do tend to love books that take government control to the absolute extreme. Reading them is like whistling past the graveyard: can't happen to me! Nope, not here!

final thought: For me to get this much enjoyment out of a translated novel satiring something I know so little about is fairly amazing. I have nothing but praise for


Olman Feelyus said...

Interesting find. I wonder how this book was considered when (if) it was published in Russia? It sounds like it was fairly critical of the regime at the time, which would suggest that the author would be at least be put on some list.

The Russians are a weird people. Their sci-fi is really weird. I think it's not just a question of language, but culture. To really get them, you have to go live there for a while.

downtown guy said...

I'd like to go check it out some time, but so far no luck on travels of that length.

I'd be curious as well about its effects in Russia. If I find an article about it, I'll post the link.

JRSM said...

It's not often someone comes across a dystopian novel I've never even heard of: it looks really interesting! It also reminds me of something else I read recently, 'The Queue' by Vladimir Sorokin, which is a novel entirely in dialogue, about people waiting in a queue in Soviet Moscow. They don't even know what they're queuing for--clothes? furniture? food? And the hero also gets to have sex with a hot Russian babe, too. Very odd, but very good (the book, not the sex).

downtown guy said...

Now that sounds really interesting. Didn't Chuck Palahniuk recently have a novel out that was about 3 men waiting in line to have sex with a porn actress who was doing some sort of mass gangbang?

Will said...

I read this book sometime in the late 80's. I was in my early teens and my parents and I were vacationing in Orlando. We stopped at an outlet mall and I went into the "irregular" book store that had books nobody ever heard of at prices that just covered the cost of the production and delivery to the store. I bought the hardcover for a few dollars and read it in a day. Sadly, I lost my copy years ago.

I loved reading (and still do) and thankfully I had just read 1984 a few months prior, so this book really interested me both as a parody and because of its extreme view of what could happen if an idea is taken too far.. Though really, 1984 is pretty extreme as well, just not as funny.

This is still one of my favorite political / futurist / dystopian books along side Dune (which at its core is about the merging of politics and religion) and 1984. I own 2 copies at this point (both paperback) - one copy for myself and one to loan friends.

One thing I've never forgotten, even before I reread the book a few years ago: Primary matter is secondary matter.