Tag: Russian

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Posted March 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Magical Realism / 2 Comments

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail BulgakovTitle: The Master and Margarita (Goodreads)
, 1967
Pages: 403
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I first read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov back in 2012 I had no idea how to review it. Now that I have re-read the book, I am still at a loss. The Master and Margarita is often considered as one of the best novels of the 20th century by critics and cited as the top example of Soviet satire. Like most of Mikhail Bulgakov’s bibliography, this author never saw the effect that this novel had on the world; it was written between 1928 and 1940 but was first published in 1967, long after his death.

One of the things I love about Russian literature is the social commentary and satirical nature found in a lot of their books. During the Soviet era there was a lot written about the political state of the country but these were often heavily censored before publication. There was a distribution practise happening at the time call called samizdat, which is when individuals reproduced censored publications and passed them out to readers. The term samizdat comes from the Russian words, sam which roughly means “self” and izdat “publishing house”, so possibly the first use of self-publishing. If it wasn’t for this underground practice we may never have the uncensored editions of Russian classics like Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, the majority of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn books and of course The Master and Margarita.

The novel starts out with Berlioz and Bezdomny talking at the Patriarch ponds when a mysterious professor appears and strikes up a conversation. This professor is actually Satan and he was talking to them about the existence of God, the idea being if God doesn’t exist, can Satan?. Russia at the time was an atheist state, in fact communism and religion often do not go hand in hand. During the Stalinist era the Soviet government tried to suppress all forms of religious expression. Bulgakov’s commentary on religion and the government is an interesting one and while there are other interpretations of the novel this was what I took away from the novel this time round.

The ideas of censorship of religion continues with the Master’s book about Pontius Pilate, which was rejected and he was accused of pilatism. Though pilatism is found throughout the book The Master and Margarita as well, Pilate is not only in the Master’s novel but appears in Satan’s stories as well as dreams. The Master has poured his heart and soul into it his novel and having rejected sent him into a tailspin. This satirisation of censorship and religion plays though out the entire novel.

The idea of pilatism is an interesting one since in Christianity Pontius Pilate is the seen as the one that sentenced Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name Yeshua Ha-Nozri in this novel) to die on the cross. Pilate becomes a symbol of humanity’s evil within religion and The Master and Margarita but you can argue that it is possible that he was a victim of society. Pilate’s ruling on Yeshua Ha-Nozri was due to pressure from the people and the high priests, he literally (and symbolically) washed his hands of the situation. I got the impression that Mikhail Bulgakov was comparing this idea of pilatism with the soviet government at the time. Human nature is apparently evil but it is also very influential of society, and what does that say about the atheist state?

There is so much going on within this novel and I would love to talk about the influences of Goethe’s tragic play Faust on the book. However I think I would need to re-read Faust to be able to compare it with The Master and Margarita. I would have also liked to explore the constant changes on narration, from an omniscient observer to the characters within the book but not sure what else to say about that. I re-read this book as part of a buddy read, my first buddy read in fact and I had a lot of fun doing this but I think I wasn’t a good reading partner. This time I read the Hugh Aplin translation of The Master and Margarita and I think I enjoyed it more than the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I read last time. This may have been because I got more out of the book or maybe there is something about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translations I didn’t like, I tend to avoid their translations.

I hope I have made a coherent review, I focused mainly on censorship and religion because this book is weird and all over the place so I needed to stick to one topic to make sense of what I have read. I do plan to re-read The Master and Margarita sometime in my life, I might even try a different translation again (any suggestions?). I got so much out of this book this time around and has really made me appreciate the value of re-reading. I ended my last review of this book telling people to ‘just read it’ and I think that sentiment still stands.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Posted January 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo TolstoyTitle: The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Nicolas Pasternak Slater
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1884
Pages: 256
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.

There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.

In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Posted January 9, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

In the First Circle by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynTitle: In the First Circle (Goodreads)
Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Translator: Harry Willets
Published: Harper Perennial, 1968
Pages: 784
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Moscow, Christmas Eve 1949; a man makes a phone call to the American embassy to warn them about the Soviet Atom Bomb project. This call was caught on tape and quickly disconnected by The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). A brilliant mathematician named Gleb Nerzhin, was taken as a sharashka (known as zeks) prisoner and ordered to help track down the mystery caller. The zeks know that they have it better than a “regular” gulag prisoners but they are faced with the moral dilemma; to aid a political system they oppose or be transferred to the deadly labour camps.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a Russian author as well as a historian; he was also a critic of Soviet totalitarianism which found himself in prison much like Gleb Nerzhin. He was accused of anti-revolutionary propaganda under Russian SFSR Penal Code (Article 58 paragraph 10) which is a ‘catch-all’ criminal offence that could be used against anyone that might threaten the government. During the period of Stalinism, the crime of “propaganda and agitation that called to overturn or undermining of the Soviet power” jumped from a six month prison sentence to seven years of imprisonment, with possible internal exile for two to five years. On 7 July 1945, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to seven years in a labour camp for comments he made in private letters to a friend. After his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was then internally exiled for life at Kok-Terek, which is in the north-eastern region of Kazakhstan.

The First Circle was self-censored before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn even attempted to get it published in 1968. Originally the book was 96 chapters long but the censorship turned the novel into 87 chapters. Some changes included the man telling another doctor to share some new medicine with the French instead of warning the Americans about the atom bomb. All mention of the Roman Catholics and religion was also removed. It wasn’t till 2009 a new English translation (not sure of the details on the Russian editions) saw the book restored and uncensored; now with the title In The First Circle.

The title alone is fascinating and it allows the reader to pick up on the whole metaphor before starting the novel. Looking at Dante’s Inferno, it is easy to find that the first circle of hell is limbo. In the epic poem Virgil introduces Dante to people like Socrates, Plato, Homer, Horace and Ovid. The time between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is often referred to as the Harrowing of Hell, in which he descended into limbo and brought salvation to the righteous. However in Dante’s Inferno this meant that Christ saved people like Noah, Moses, Abraham and King David, but a lot of the intellectuals where left. This is metaphor for the penal institutions, making reference to all the intellectuals and political thinkers arrested under Stalin’s Russia.

This novel made me feel a lot smarter than I actually am, there is a lot of information within In The First Circle however Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presented them in accessible way. Going into the book I knew a little about Solzhenitsyn’s life and the metaphor in the title was explained in the Goodreads synopsis. So I was able to witness how everything came together without doing any research. The book sometimes goes into Russian history; I was fascinated with everything I learnt.

I have read so many books set in Cold War Russia but I don’t think there have been many actually written by a Russian. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has lead an interesting life and I am keen to read more of his novels before attempting The Gulag Archipelago, his three volume book on the history of a gulag labour camp. If you have paid attention to my best of 2014 list you would have noticed that In The First Circle did make the list. This was a wonderful book that was both thrilling and educational, I would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history, especially the Cold War era.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Posted December 12, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 2 Comments

Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris StrugatskyTitle: Roadside Picnic (Goodreads)
Author: Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
Translator: Olena Bormashenko
Published: Chicago Review Press, 1972
Pages: 209
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Aliens have made contact, or have they? Thirteen years after the visitation, an international science cooperative has locked up each landing site, dubbed Zones in an effort to study the unexplained phenomena. Red Schuhart is a stalker, someone that sneaks into the zones and tries to collect artefacts. Despite the legal ramifications, artefacts on the black market sell really well. When Red puts together another team to collect a “full empty” everything goes wrong.

The attempts to gain publication of Roadside Picnic is a story in itself; like most Russian literature this novel was originally serialised in a literary magazine. Attempts to publish in book form took over eight years, mainly due to denial by the Department for Agitation and Propaganda. The heavily censored book that originally was published was a significant departure to what the authors originally wrote. I am unclear as to whether the new translation I read corrected this censorship, to quote the back of the book “this authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions”. I know some of the corrections made included to the original translation starting thirty years after the visitation rather than thirteen but unsure what else was changed. However, despite the censorship and notwithstanding the fact this novel was out-of-print in America for thirty years; Roadside Picnic is wildly regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.

The title Roadside Picnic refers to the visitation and the fact that they never made contact with humanity. The novel plays with the idea that intelligent life wouldn’t want to make contact with the human race. One look at humanity, full of all the violence towards each other, aliens would conclude that humans are not intelligent life forms but rather savages. One character within the novel, Dr. Valentine Pilman compared the aliens visit to that of an extra-terrestrial picnic.

“Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption—that an alien race would be psychologically human.”

It is fascinating to look at humanity in a first contact novel and it reminded me of how much I’ve enjoyed the psychological/philosophical science fiction novels that seemed to be produced in the 1960s and 70s. However Roadside Picnic went deeper; like most Russian novels of this time, there was a strong reflection on society at the time. Like I said before, I am not sure if this edition still holds the Soviet censorship but I was impressed by the subtle look at society. It wasn’t just a poke at the Soviet Union but rather a look at humanity under an unidentifiable superpower. This could be an American superpower and it looks at ideas of what might happen if the government prohibits the people from gaining access to the biggest scientific discovery of their time. You have a struggle between quarantined verses legitimate scientific research, playing with the moral idea of government regulated technology.

Moving away from the themes, Roadside Picnic is a thrilling and beautifully written novel. Red Schuhart almost comes across as a hard-boiled narrator but less cynical; he remains a wide-eyed curious protagonist throughout the narrative. A surreal, tense story that threw out the rules found in a ‘first contact’ novel and ended up redefining the genre. It went on to challenge some of the ideas in the study of xenology and perhaps even ufology.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky have been the authors of over twenty science fiction novels, their unique style of blending Soviet rationalism with speculative fiction can be found throughout their books. Roadside Picnic remains their masterpiece and inspired the Russian cult classic movie Stalker (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky wrote the screenplay for Stalker and then the novelisation; no idea why you need a novelisation of a movie that was based on a book. Roadside Picnic is an amazing novel, and reminds me why I love Russian science fiction. The blend of social commentary and science fiction is what I continue to look for when searching for books in this genre.

ArmchairBEA 2014: Author Interaction & More Than Just Words

Posted May 27, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 29 Comments


Day two here at Armchair BEA and we are talking author interaction & more than just words. Where I live we tend not to get many authors up, but when we do, I often try and catch their readings, book signings or talks. It can be difficult when they are authors that you’ve never read or have no interest in reading; I want to be supportive of the authors that do come to this city but I also don’t want to be stuck buying books I don’t plan to read.

I’ve had some great experiences with authors, from hanging out with them at a cocktail party (Trudi Canavan, Rachel Caine and Felicia Day), to having great conversations them on Twitter (I still get excited when Megan Abbott replies to a tweet or Gary Shteyngart favourites a tweet) to awkward book signings (I’m thinking about the time Nick Earls signed a book ‘My apologises for not being Russian and long dead’). Some authors know how to interact to the public and I have to respect them.

2014-05-21 11.14.00

However there is the other side of the pendulum, the authors that should just get off social networking or take a leaf from J.D. Salinger’s book and avoid all people. Authors need to remember and accept the fact that not all readers are going to enjoy their books. I write negative reviews and I do try to be constructive when I do so but authors can get so defensive and venomous towards negative feedback that they should stop reading their reviews. I’m not just talking about personal experience, I’m talking about comments you see on Twitter or the bullying on Goodreads. I do understand this can be an issue for reviewers as well but I tend to think if you can’t handle negative feedback (this goes for reviewers too) then stay away from the internet.  I’ll end my rant there.

Moving on to the topic of more than just words, where I want to discuss a few things. Firstly audiobooks (as long as they are unabridged) counts as reading. Just because you are getting a book read to you doesn’t mean you are not experiencing it. Sure an audiobook is a completely different experience but I think it does not matter that the listener has not read the book. Our brains are wonderful and complex things, I think to read the book aloud in my head and an audio book is similar but someone else reading it. I still process it in similar ways and retention levels tend to be the same (for me anyway). I listen to a lot of audiobooks; mainly become I work on a computer all day with headphones in. Sometimes music is good, but I find audiobooks (especially when it comes to non-fiction and hard novels) can be a great way to experience a book while working.

Now there is the concept of graphic novels, I’ve seen people really take them on board and others avoid them at all cost. For those who do avoid graphic novels I’d love to know why. I worry people get the wrong idea about graphic novels and think they are all about superheroes with powers, but there are some great ones out there. If you want some recommendations check out my post where I suggest five different graphic novels to try that don’t feature super heroes.

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted May 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Invitation to a Beheading (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Vintage, 1936
Pages: 240
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime with no definition.  Cincinnatus spends his remaining days in prison where he is visited by the chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a prisoner, and his in-laws. When Cincinnatus is finally brought out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

There is no denying that Invitation to a Beheading is a weird novel; often compared with Franz Kafka’s The Castle, it is important to know that Vladimir Nabokov had not read any German novels, let alone Kafka when writing this. The reason this is important is to avoid trying to compare the two novels; sure they have similarities but they are still also vastly different. Originally published as a serial, with the title Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes), Nabokov has stated while Lolita holds his greatest affection, this novel holds his greatest esteem.

While people call this Kafkaesque, the impossible and dreamlike world reminds me more of Haruki Murakami’s style. From the very start the reader understands there is something not right about this world, this reminded me of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I got the feeling that this wasn’t reality but a world constructed in Cincinnatus’ mind based on his fears, doubts, and insecurities. Cincinnatus’ enemy is the society he’s created and the people of that society act according to ridiculous rules that have been set. We never know what gnostical turpitude is and this will probably remind people of Kafka’s The Trial. Cincinnatus is rebelling against the construction of this reality and the rules the people of this society observe and perhaps this is what makes him a criminal.

Maybe gnostical turpitude is the crime of being different from all the other people in this reality. Maybe Cincinnatus is being oppress for his ideas and his nature. Maybe he is so different from everyone around him; he has an internal depth that the others lack. A lot like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov has a way about his writing that just leaves you with so many questions that you need to think through, this whole reality and society leaves me perplexed. Though this is the point; life isn’t simple and being an outsider sometimes feels like you are Cincinnatus in a bizarre reality.

While this book primarily looks at society and oppression it also looks at human connection. Cincinnatus desires to connect with his wife Marthe, despite her unfaithfulness and lack of concern for him. The one thing he craves the most is to make a connection and she felt like the logical choice; also the fact that he loved her helped. He begs her to come alone and reveal her true self to him but there is always something that interferes with the communicating.

While this was a very odd book, Vladimir Nabokov is just a brilliant writer and that really makes up for the weirdness. Also the weird and bizarre act as motifs within the narrative and without the symbolism and meaning it would just be trippy book. Nabokov does a good job of weaving his messages and ideas while entertaining the reader in unexpected ways. Most people only ever read  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and I think that means they miss out on his brilliance, I hope to read more; currently on my To Be Read list is Mary, Pnin and Pale Fire. Are there any others I should add?

Supporting Your Favourite Authors

Posted May 13, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

How do you support your favourite authors? I just listened to a great podcast of The Readers (my favourite bookish podcast, so check it out) about supporting authors and I thought I would add my thoughts as well. Sure, a lot of authors only want reviews and being a book blogger I get a lot of requests to read books and review them when really my blog is just a way to document my reading journey and talk about my favourite topic, books. I have a review policy which basically says, I’m happy to accept books but there is no guarantee that I’ll read them. If I do read a book, I will write something about it as it is part of documenting my journey but I do try to be constructive and say why the book didn’t work for me but I never go out of my way to be mean. Book reviews are a great way to share thoughts of a book and help support the author but there are so many other ways to do so now.

In a world of social media you can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or if you are a fan of tumbleweeds you can try Google+ (most of my favourite authors are no longer living, so if I follow them that would be a little weird). I’ve had mixed experiences with authors on Twitter; some will just retweet every nice thing said about their book (I know one that will retweet everything, even the bad stuff) and sure that might be good in a way but these authors are not worth following. I follow some great authors that interact with their follows and it can be a great experience (sometimes if you end up not liking the book, they suddenly unfollow you). I had an interesting experience with an author who contacted me to thank me for reading and reviewing his book even though I didn’t like it and while I felt a little bad for not liking it after the thank you I now have more respect for this author for going out of his way to interact with his readers.

There are also book signings and bookish events, you can show your support for an author by going and hear them read or talk about their book. This is a good way to meet the author and get a book signed. I think you learn so much about an author by actually meeting them and see how they interact with the readers and they are also a lot of fun. I remember going to see an author and realised I was wearing a shirt that said “I’d rather be reading Dostoevsky” and this particular author ended up signing my copy of the book with an apology for being neither Russian or dead, which was really amusing and makes that book that much more special (even though I wasn’t a huge fan of it).

But when it comes down to it, the best way to support an author is just reading their books. Not necessarily buying their book, even going to the library (your local library needs support too) is a way to support the author (I believe they still getting royalties from library books). It’s not always about the royalties, sharing their creativity is important as well and in some cases what the authors value the most. If you love the book maybe go buy the book too, just to give them that extra support but remember to support your local indie bookstore whenever possible; they don’t always have the book you are looking for but if you don’t support them they may not be there for long.

So when it comes down to it, I personally feel the best way to support an author is to just read their books and maybe buy them (but never pirate them). A review helps to promote their book as well, but that really comes down to personal preference. Goodreads may not be perfect but I do trust my friends opinions of a book, rather than reading a stranger’s review. I would love to know any other ways we can help support the authors we love or any stories you would like to share that helped change your opinion of an author.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Posted April 13, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 0 Comments

The Night Watch by Sergei LukyanenkoTitle: The Night Watch (Goodreads)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Series: Watch #1
Published: Arrow, 1998
Pages: 576
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Walking the streets of Moscow with the rest of the population are the Others, possessors of supernatural powers capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy parallel that few know exists. Each Other owes allegiance to the Light or Dark side, The Night Watch follows Anton, a young Other of the Light, who must patrol the streets protecting ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark.

I’ve been trying more and more fantasy (in my quest to be a literary explorer) and with the success of some recent urban fantasy and The Lions of Al-Rassan, I thought I might try some Russian fantasy. This novel revolves around a confrontation between two opposing supernatural groups; the Night Watch, an organisation that polices the actions of the Dark Others, and the Day Watch, who police the Light Others. Now to help wrap your head around the novel, I first must explain just what are the Others; these are humans that while they live into the real world they can step into the Twilight (the supernatural world). Why do the Watch need to help police these two sides? The balance between Light and Dark must be kept at all times.

I thought my love of Russian literature would help me through this novel but in the end there was no saving this one. While the premise was excellent and the whole battle between good and evil in a police procedural type urban fantasy novel can really work (see The Dirty Streets of Heaven) but not in this book. Straight off the bat the whole book took a very long time to build momentum, I think I was a quarter of the way through the book when I started to enjoy it then Bam! a completely new story. Turns out these are three completely independent stories and each one of them was a very slow burn that ended too quickly. My major problem with the entire book that I had to spend so much time building the story then finally getting sucked into the plot only to have it end too soon.

There were so many interesting elements worth exploring, I would have liked to see more of the Post-Soviet Russia that this book (like most modern Russian literature) hints at but regrettably never really explored. Russia has this amazingly rich history that has sparked so many great novels and authors and I truly think Sergei Lukyanenko could be one of them with some work. Like Dostoyevsky, Lukyanenko tries to inject the novel with philosophical ideas on morality and this could have really worked in his favour had he stuck with one story right through to the end.

Personally I think Sergei Lukyanenko did not do himself any favours by dividing this book into three short tales; none of them really stood out and I really think the first of the three had the most potential if he explored it in greater detail and developed a more complex plot. The tension between Anton and Kostya Saushkin could have made for some really interesting philosophical discussion on morality, evil and the effects it has on the world around you. Plus the sexual tension between the two didn’t hurt either but that is when this short story ended abruptly. I felt disappointed at the miss opportunity.

The Night Watch really didn’t work for me; there was so much it could have done but I feel it shot itself in the foot when anything complex started to surface. On the front of the cover was a blurb that said “J.K. Rowling Russian style” which feels like a marketing ploy that I doubt it did itself any favours; it does not make me want to read the Harry Potter series. The second book in the pentalogy of Watches is called Day Watch which intrigues me but because it is broken into little stories as well, I think I will give it a miss. The Night Watch has left me with the need to explore some more of Sergei Lukyanenko’s novels but this is his most recent series, which makes me worry that he has not perfected his craft.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted March 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 9 Comments

Lolita by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Lolita (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Penguin, 1955
Pages: 390
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Lolita is the highly controversial novel of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession with twelve year-old Dolores Haze. Of whom he becomes a step father as well as being sexually involved. Considered one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century, Lolita is known not just for the disturbing nature but for the unreliable narration and sophisticated writing style.

Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita, is one of those books that are worth reading even if it makes you very uncomfortable. The protagonist is the villain who tries so hard to gain the readers sympathy through his sincerity and melancholy. But as the story progress you can even see that he has lost of sympathy for himself and starts referring to himself as maniac who deprived Dolores of her childhood. The novel provides a remarkable perspective into the mind of a man you just want to hate and I will admit it can be a little exciting to watch him go through hell. Nabokov writes a hated character in the hope to knock him around and give him some humility and the reader is left wondering if he will learn from his mistakes.

This has often been described as an erotic novel, even the Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita “an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners”. Personally I think of this book as a satirical tragedy with elements of eroticism and remorse. The narrator spends a fair chunk of the book begging the reader to understand that he is not proud of his actions and he is often stricken with guilt at the awareness of robbing Lolita of her childhood. But there is a case to be made at the fact that this is just an exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child but this can be problematic and not something I wish to go into great deal about.

The novel as a whole is a very one sided argument, we know how Humbert feels about the entire situation; we hear this to a very sickening degree. He has remorse but his obsession keeps him from ever changing, but one has to wonder what was really going through the mind of Dolores. I have to wonder how she sees the situation or even what she was thinking or feeling throughout the novel. We, as readers, can only surmise since we are forced to absorb Humbert’s feelings.

It is interesting to point out just how two dimensional all the characters are; all except himself and Dolores (Lolita), which he goes into great detail.  It reminds me of life; people tend to describe each other in a two dimensional manner unless we are obsessed with or interested in the person. This technique of writing really added to the realistic feeling of this book.

Lolita was a really awkward and sickening novel to read, there aren’t many books out there that have made me sick to my stomach. Lolita pulls off that feeling that horror novels try to achieve yet often get wrong – that feeling of uneasiness for the reader. This is my second read of this novel, so I knew what to expect and I was able to look past the controversial elements and focus on what this book can offer to the literary world.

Apart from the elements of oppression and an authority figure trying to assert their dominance this book explores tragicomedy, unreliable narration, irony and because Vladimir Nabokov is a Russian it could be a metaphor for totalitarianism. There are many themes you can explore within the novel but the one that will stick in most people’s minds is the lasting damage created by child sexual abuse.

Interestingly enough Vladimir Nabokov is a surrealist often linked to Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Kafka which make you wonder about some of the elements of this book even more. With a love of intricate word play and synesthetic detail Lolita turns into a wry observation of western culture. The novel is full of cleaver word play, double entendres, multilingual puns and in the end when you boil done to why people love it, it is just  a beautifully written novel.

You may not enjoy reading this book but you might enjoy having read it. I have to admit that I enjoyed this book more the second time around; there is great beauty to be found in this book and while content makes this book difficult to get through it is well worth the effort. I remember one of my first blog posts on literature was called “What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course” where I listed the books I’d include if I was to create an introduction to Fiction course and Lolita was one of my choices. Having now reread this book, it just validates my choice even more, there is so much to explore in this book that it has been put back on my list of books to reread.

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

Posted March 8, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia / 0 Comments

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir SorokinTitle: Day of the Oprichnik (Goodreads)
, 2006
Pages: 191
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Welcome to new Russia, where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible. Corporal punishment is back and the monarchy is divided once again, but this is the future, the not so distant future for the Russian empire, or is it? Day of the Oprichnik follows a government henchman, an Oprichnik, through a day of grotesque event.

Day of the Oprichnik is a thought provoking Science Fiction novel of the worst possible Russia imagined. But while the book is dark, it also is hilarious and then it has this wonderfully satirical nature about it. Komiaga is the narrator of this gem, an anti-hero and one of the Tsar’s most devoted henchmen. While the humour and satire throughout this book is grotesque, this book is a perfect example of great contemporary Russian literature as well as a political critique.

I will admit I like these types of modern Russian Science Fiction novels, like Super Sad True Love Story, you have this wonderful dystopian backdrop as well as the high tech gadgets like the “mobilov” and then you use this to create delightfully thought provoking plot riddled with satirical elements. These witty and intelligently written books are what I live for.

Komiaga is one of the elites, enforcing the laws of the land, helping the Czar’s to rule with an iron fist for the sake of the motherland and the Russian Orthodox Church. This is my first Vladimir Sorokin novel and I would like to compare this novel to one of Philip K. Dick’s (The Man in the High Castle to be exact); there is this wonderfully crafted story and you have these philosophical and political ideas that stick with you well after you have finished the book.

The Telegraph named this book one of the best for 2011 and the New York Review called Sorokin “[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius” of late-Soviet fiction”, just to give you an idea of what to expect. Day of the Oprichnik is deliciously complex, full of garish science fiction and hallucinogenic fish. Komiaga’s day might not be a typical one but it’s full of executions, parties, meetings, oracles, and even the Czarina.

I loved every moment of Day of the Oprichnik, even the moments that made me think “WTF” and for all of the people that have read this book, I want to say one word that will mean something to you but not the others, the word that the person who recommended this book to me said when I finished. That word is “caterpillar”. For everyone else; read the book, enjoy the satire, black humour and Science Fiction elements of this book and also find out what I mean.