1. A Long Line to Nothing and Nowhere


    —Okay then, I’ll wait. You been queuing long?

    —Not really…

    —How many are they giving per person, d’you know?

    —God knows…haven’t even asked. Do you know how many they’re giving out?

    —Don’t know about today. I heard yesterday it was two each.


    —Uh-huh. First was four each, then two.

    —Not a lot, huh! Hardly worth waiting, really…

    —You should get into two queues at once. Those guys from town have got places in three different queues.

    —Three each?


    —Then we’re going to be here all day!

    —Nah, don’t worry. Service is very quick here.

    —I’m not so sure. We haven’t budged an inch…

    —from the opening of Vladimir Sorokin’s aptly-named and once-banned debut novel, The Queue, in which comrades line up for…nobody knows. Apples? American jeans? Someone heard there would be ice cream. But maybe not?

    Sorokin’s work was suppressed in the Soviet Union all through the 1980s, but even his later, post-U.S.S.R. work has been considered inflammatory: the 1999 publication of his novel, The Blue Laird, which includes a sex scene between the clones of Stalin and Khrushchev, incited public demonstrations against the writer and demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer.

    Sorokin’s apocalyptic tour de force, The Ice Trilogy, is also available as an NYRB Classic.

  2. “An anomalous luminescence of the atmosphere!”


    “Among us there will be a person who was born at the moment the Tungus meteorite fell.”

    And I realized that Kulik had accepted me on the expedition only because of this. Everyone turned toward me with curiosity.

    “Where were you born?” asked Trifonov.

    “About thirty versts north of Petersburg,” I answered.

    “Kilometers, kilometers, young man!” Kulik corrected me. “Your mother heard the thunder during the birth?”

    “She did hear it. And she wasn’t the only one,” I answered.

    “It was heard all over Russia that day,” the glum geologist Yankovsky spoke up.

    “And what else were you told about the day of your birth? Was there anything else unusual?” asked Kulik, staring intently at me.

    “Unusual...” I thought a minute and suddenly remembered. “Of course. There was something. My family said that there was no night at all. And the sky was lit up.”

    “Absolutely right!” Kulik raised a long finger. “This phenomenon was noted along the entire coast of the Baltic Sea, in the northern parts of Europe and Russia — from Copenhagen to Yeniseisk! An anomalous luminescence of the atmosphere!”

    “Which Torvald Kohl and Herman Seidel wrote about,” nodded Ikhilevich. “A bright dawn and dusk, a massive development of silvery clouds...”

    “The mass accumulation of silvery clouds...” Kulik repeated in a loud voice. He grew thoughtful and suddenly banged his fist on the rostrum. “This time we are obliged to find the meteorite!”

    “We’ll find it! It won’t get away from us! That’s why we’re going!” Everyone began talking at once.

    “Sasha, Sasha, it’s so wonderful!” Masha turned her reddened face toward me. “Find it, find the Tungus meteorite!”

    “I’ll try,” I muttered without much enthusiasm.

    I just wanted to travel somewhere. To travel and travel, as I did back then.

    Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy imagines that the ice of the Tunguska meteor, which fell in Siberia in 1908, was in fact an emissary from the prelapsarian universe, sent to reunite the 23,000 perfect souls on Earth as one. Here, Bro (aka Sasha), who will become the leader of that unification movement, embarks on a scientific expedition to uncover the meteorite for the first time.

    The photo above, of the damage done by the meteorite, was taken by members of the 1927 expedition that Bro is fictional member of.

  3. Vladimir Sorokin and Intizar Husain nominated for Man Booker International Prize 2013


    We’d like to congratulate Intizar Husain and Vladimir Sorokin on being named finalists for the Man Booker International Prize 2013. The prize “recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction. Worth £60,000, the prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel and there are no submissions from publishers.”

    Vladimir Sorokin is the author of The Queue and Ice Trilogy, both available as NYRB Classics, and Days of the Oprichnik. Trained as an engineer for the Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas, Sorokin later turned to writing and became a major presence in Moscow’s literary underground in the 1980s. Banned in the Soviet Union, his work has since been translated into more than twenty languages and awarded several prestigious prizes, including the Andrei Bely Prize for outstanding contribution to Russian literature in 2001. Sorokin lives in Moscow.

    Intizar Husain is a journalist, short-story writer, and novelist, widely considered the most significant living fiction writer in Urdu. He is the author of the story collections Leaves, The Seventh Door, A Chronicle of the Peacocks, and An Unwritten Epic. Basti, a novel in which the psychic history of Pakistan is traced through the story of a single man, was published as an NYRB Classic in December. Pankaj Mishra called it “a haunting modernist echo chamber of voices from Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic traditions.” Husain currently lives in Lahore, Pakistan.

    Also nominated for the Man Booker International Prize is Lydia Davis, whose translation of Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow is available from NYRB Classics.

  4. Vladimir Sorokin’s ‘Ice Trilogy’

    (Photo: Dominique Nabokov)

    What on earth does Sorokin’s weird Ice Trilogy mean? In April 2005, as he was finishing 23,000 [the last book in the trilogy], Sorokin published an article headlined “Mea Culpa?” in the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta, venting his irritation with the way Ice and Bro [the first two books of the trilogy] had been received by academic Slavists. He rebuked his friend the eminent Igor P. Smirnov (professor emeritus at the University of Konstanz), for his interpretation of Bro as a mockery of consumerist society. (Smirnov is satirized in Day of the Oprichnik as Igor Pavlovich Tikhy, who Komiaga catches discussing the ‘Negation of a Negation of Negation of a Negation’ on an underground radio station—Smirnov and Tikhy both mean ‘quiet’ in Russian.) Ice Trilogy is a ‘metaphysical novel,’ Sorokin declared, an ‘attempt to talk about Homo sapiens.’

    and continued in a later paragraph

    While some Slavists may indeed need reminding that violence is not a text, the fictional Slavist Tikhy’s ‘negation of a negation’ is not an entirely absurd description of God’s appearance at the end of Ice Trilogy. Sorokin’s theology is negative theology in the Orthodox tradition, which seeks God, who ‘dwelleth in a secret place,’ through exploring everything that God is not. As Sorokin hands over the language of faith to be emptied and desecrated by violent ecstatic cults like the Earthfuckers, the oprichniks, and the Brotherhood of Light, he looks ever more like a writer in the great Russian tradition, conversing with God (or God’s absence), through storytelling, about the mysteries of language, history, and the human body.

       — from a review by Rachel Polonsky in The New York Review of Books of Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy and Day of the Oprichnik, both translated by Jamey Gambrell in what is called a “heroic translation.”

  5. The Ghost of Books: Part II



    My tastes haven’t changed much since I was about eight years old. Back then my favorite books were all about lonely children who in their wanderings happened across a mysterious portal that allowed them to slip away from the drab everyday and into some brighter, more exhilarating world. I can’t remember titles (that’s why they are ghosts), but I do remember the precise locations of the individual portals, the secret knocks required to open them, the terrifying, fantastical adventures waiting behind each one. I have a map, but it’s hidden and it’s in code and I’m not telling where I keep it. The portals of the moment, though, include a strange and so-far quite gorgeous Czech novel called The Golden Age, by one Michal Ajvaz, and The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) by Macedonio Fernández, who was a mentor to Borges. The first 123 pages of the latter are composed entirely of prologues, more than fifty of them. Endless doorways: what more could anyone ask for?

    As for the future, a small brigade of giant and semi-giant books have been staring down at me from a high shelf for too long, posing a serious danger to the integrity of the wall, and to my cranium: Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. If I can tackle one or two of them this year, I’ll be happy. More realistically, my reading list for 2012 includes Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, Paul LaFarge’s Luminous Airplanes, China Mieville’s The Iron Council, Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm, Teju Cole’s Open City. I’m also very excited about Victor Serge’s memoirs, due out this spring.

    I’m reading The Guardians by Sarah Manguso. I recently finished The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and it blew my mind. It’s the best novel I’ve read in a long time. I don’t usually give books as gifts ever since I saw that New Yorker cartoon where someone is unwrapping a book on their birthday and looks around at the other partygoers and says, “Oh, homework.”

    Read More

  6. Banned Books Week Continued—Vladimir Sorokin

    As we continue honoring Banned Books Week on this blog, we don’t want anyone to get the idea that censorship is a thing of the past (our focus the past three days has been writers from different decades: Vasily Grossman, Andrey Platonov, and Edmund Wilson). Today, we are looking at Vladimir Sorokin who up has witnessed very public censorship of his work in the 2000s. Here’s Tony Wood, reviewing Ice Trilogy in the London Review of Books:

    "Sorokin has the rare distinction of having been an enfant terrible in both of them [Soviet and post-Soviet era]. He was born near Moscow in 1955 and became active in the literary and artistic underground of the late Brezhnev era. The Queue, his first book, was published in Paris in 1985. Since then he has been prolific in a variety of genres – stories, novels, plays, screenplays, an opera libretto – but he is best known in Russia for attracting the disapproval of the Putinite youth movement Walking Together, which claimed his novel Blue Lard was pornographic. In 2002 its members staged a protest in central Moscow, helpfully handing out leaflets reproducing the offending passages – among them a sex scene featuring Stalin and Khrushchev – before ceremonially throwing copies of the book into a giant papier-mâché toilet. The legal charges filed against Sorokin were eventually dropped, but the episode confirmed his status as provocateur-in-chief of contemporary Russian letters.”

  7. The final word on Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy, courtesy of the employees of Northshire Bookstore in Vermont.

    The final word on Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy, courtesy of the employees of Northshire Bookstore in Vermont.