Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Look: The Blue Lantern by Victor Pelevin

Book Look: The Blue Lantern by Victor Pelevin: Pelevin is probably the last prominent writer that emerged from communist Russia. His earliest published works nearly coincide with the fall of The Wall and the nine short stories in The Blue Lantern capture characters thrust into unaccustomed and hopeful circumstances, but with the darkly fatalistic weight of communist futility still dominating their minds. In other words, they are very Russian. But that's not to say they are dreary or dire. There is a playful absurdity to them -- partly because Pelevin falls solidly in the magic-realist category -- and there is even a sense of fun, although always we are pulled back to a hollow end.

Workers go about their grinding daily business only to discover that they are actually dead. Transsexual hookers and sailors play a game of chess with potentially deadly consequences. A shed (yes, a shed) has a life story and therefore a consciousness and dreams of freedom. The most endearing story is "Hermit and Six Toes," about two creatures struggling to break free of the limits imposed on them by others of their kind and by the gods. The gods turn out to be humans. The most wickedly wry is "The Tambourine of the Upper World" in which witchcraft is used to raise foreign WW2 dead from the grave as husbands for Russian women trying to get citizenship abroad.

By simple description, many of the stories will sound heavy-handed, and conceptually, many are. But Pelevin is a skilled dramatist so instead of feeling bludgeoned with symbolism and allegory, you end up enjoying the final Twilight Zone twist. I would read more Pelevin if I didn't already have a six foot tall reading list. In some ways he reminds me of one of my favorites, Haruki Murakami -- the deft use of the mystical; the sympathetic characters who experience the collision of the personal and the philosophical. And both have captured the fancy of the inquisitive youth in their home markets. Recommended.