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Vassily Aksyonov: Ожог (The Burn)

This novel has been compared to works such as Gravity’s Rainbow but, interesting, though it is, it is not of that calibre. However, it can readily be described as a portrait of a civilisation in free fall with a group of intellectuals drinking, doing drugs, having sex, talking about it all and with no real idea of who they are and where they are going. Their music is jazz, their cultural models Western (though the influences of Russian authors such as Bely, Bulgakov and Kharms are apparent) and their political views definitely not Soviet. We see them initially through the Men’s Club where they drink heavily and abuse one another (just like men everywhere). While Pynchon’s characters are also at odds with the society in which they live, Aksyonov’s are definitely out of tune with Soviet Russia. There are not openly opposed to it but continually mock it and clearly see it as irrelevant to their existence. Language games, narrative anarchy, fantasy, surrealism, all in the Russian tradition, are to the fore and make this novel an interesting portrait of Russia in the 1960s.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Ardis
First published in English 1984 by Random House
Translated by Michael Glenny