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