Olga Slavnikova: 2017 (2017)
Slavnikova won the Russian Booker Prize for this novel and it is easy to see why. It is a lively Pynchon-esque conspiracy tale of derring-do, political upheaval and, of course, love and romance. Keen-eyed readers will note that the novel is titled after the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, though that is only eleven years after the date of publication of the novel so, though it is set in the future, it is not much in the future. The novel is set in the Riphean state (it is never called Riphea), a fictitious country which is very obviously Russia. The Riphean mountains were mentioned by classical authors but it is not known which mountains they were referring to, though it is quite possible that they were referring to the Urals.) Things are, of course, chaotic and there are people making a lot of money in dubious ways. However, though she does mention various political and economic developments, Slavnikova neither discusses them too much nor satirises them, with one exception. The one exception only occurs in the latter part of the book. As the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution approaches, it seems to be starting all over again with Reds and Whites fighting each other. However, even this remains generally as a background to the main plot.
The main plot concerns Krylov. Krylov is a gem cutter who has been discovered and mentored by Professor Anfilogov. At the start of the novel, Krylov is seeing Anfilogov off from the station. Anfilogov is setting off with his assistant on one of his regular gem hunting expeditions. As we later learn, he is hunting for valuable gems to sell. He will be successful but at a price. What he probably does not know, is that the vague, unspecified powers-that-be that hover over this novel as in any good conspiracy theory novel do not want him to disrupt the gem market they control and intend to stop him from doing so. Krylov is left at home but he has plenty to occupy him, particularly the two women in his life. While seeing the professor off, he notices a tall woman there. As he leaves the station, he follows her and soon starts up a conversation with her. They soon start a passionate affair but with a slight difference. Neither knows the other’s identity. He knows her as Tanya and she knows him as Ivan, in neither case their real names. Initially, they meet daily at the same spot but then, using an old city guide, they meet at random (and occasionally dangerous) places selected from the guide. The danger of this is, if one of them misses the appointment for whatever reason, they have no way of getting back in touch. You can guess what happens.
The second woman in his life is Tamara, his ex-wife. Despite the fact they are no longer together, she seems to play quite a part in his life. He accompanies her at times, sees her regularly and is much influenced by her. She is a successful businesswoman running a chain of funeral parlours called Granite, which runs lotteries for its customers. While he awaits the return of Anfilogov, he spends much of his time with one of the two, depending on both for money and trying to keep isolated from the rest of the world, even as the new revolution approaches and the conspiracy comes near to him, in the form of a fat spy who seems to be watching him all the time.
First of all, Slavnikova tells a gripping tale of conspiracy, adventure and political change. But we also get very much involved in Krylov’s life. Who is Tanya? Who is the spy and who is he spying for? Will Anfilogov make them all rich? And what is going on with Tamara? It is thoroughly enjoyable novel, well in the tradition of the great Russian novels.
First published in Russian 2006 by Vagrius
First English translation by Overloook in 2010
Translated by Marian Schwartz