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viking2917

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2017

2017: A Novel - Olga Slavnikova, Marian Schwartz 2017 won the Russian Booker Prize in 2006. I received an Early Reviewer copy of the about-to-be-released first English Translation. Not normally a fan of Russian literature (loving Gorky Park Martin by Cruz Smith is about as close as I come), I decided to take a flyer on it. It had the promise of some good thematic elements. Set in 2017, explicitly mentioned as 100 years after the Russian Revolution, I somewhat expected some form of science-fiction projection of the Russian Experiment into the future. Krylov is a young apprentice gem cutter & miner, who is taken on board by Anfilogov as a mentor. Krylov is a train wreck. Divorced from a wealthy wife, hired on as a middle-aged, un-paid apprentice gem cutter, disheveled and unmotivated, he doesn't paint a pretty picture. Yet, the novel improbably sets Krylov onto a series of trysts at random locations with a mystery woman named Tanya. It seems like the novel has all the elements of a good story. And yet, it breaks down for almost from the beginning. Oh my lord the commas! I don't know whether the translation is responsible or not, but every sentence on the first 5 pages has four parenthetical comments. It's impossible to scan even one sentence without re-reading it. There are periodically bouts of humor (of a literary / Russian sort): "You're not one of those political types are you? They're crazy and they hand you completely dopey leaflets on the street.” says Tanya. "Excuse me but do I look crazy?" replies Krylov. "Forgive me, but you look a little like an intellectual", says Tanya. The trysts are completely un-erotic and asexual. In fact the rock-hounding is written more lovingly than the lovers' unions. The lovers’ first kiss: The kiss was painful Ivan felt the firm lath of Tanya's teeth, and his own, which were wobbly as splinters. Pulling back, he was amazed at how badly Tanya's lipstick was smeared. Contrast that with the jewelry he bestows on her: ...Krylov chose the stones with taste: moss agates that the eye saw as soft March woods with soggy snow; agaates with geodes where the blue amygdule was encased in quartzite crystals like large grains of salt,; picture jaspers with scenes of ancient volcanoes erupting; and brocade jasper, which made you think of the mystery of life as seen under a microscope. There were tiger's eye cabochons whose vertical pupils seemed to narrow in the light; incrustations of uvarovite a saturated chemical green; peachy cornelians.... I found no real reason the book is set in the future - in tone and subject matter it could mostly have been set in the 1800s, except for a few mystical/fantasy elements. There's no real sense of anything political in the book that might speak to a criticism of either communism or the new Putinism, although perhaps there are allusions in the book not visible to a non-Russian - but I doubt it. The language and prose is very rich, almost baroque, in places, but the plot wanders maddeningly and aimlessly for most of the book. I can't really see why it won a Booker.