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Babylon

by Victor Pelevin

ISBN 0571202470 / 9780571202478 / 0-571-20247-0
Publisher Faber and Faber
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

"Gucci for Men--be a European, smell better". The irresistible rise of Babylen Tartasky from poet to advertising copywriter followed by the short step to ultimate political power is founded on his smart diagnosis of his country's malaise and his ability to encapsulate his compatriots yearnings in a sharp slogan. This is the new Russia of gangsters, fast-flowing cocaine and the untrammelled free market and it is a very disturbing place indeed, not least because in its rawness is laid bare the anatomy of our own degenerative Western culture. Add a splash of Gucci aftershave and there really is little to tell us apart.

As a literary sensation in Russia, with six novels already to his name, Pelevin has clearly touched a nerve with his acute insights into the national psyche. Written with cruel wit concealing an austere compassion, it is Pelevin's peculiar talent to capture the sheer absurdity of the experience of a nation which, in the space of a century, has undergone two convulsive revolutions, won and lost a global empire, conquered space and yet been defeated by its own habits of dependency. Omon Ra, Pelevin's most controlled work to date, is a novel woven around the fundamental Soviet fantasy of the cosmonaut hero, while The Clay Machine Gun concerns a contemporary madman's vivid imaginings of his experiences as an unintentional hero of the Revolution. In Babylon, though, we are tricked by a double fantasy: the narrative segues in and out of virtuosic hallucinatory prose alongside Tartasky's own drug trips while the story itself veers towards ludicrous revelations about where the power in society truly lies.

At times the strategy can be exasperating and the ultimate rewards are slightly squandered but along the way there are wonderful jokes and acute analysis. ≠-Alex Butterworth [via]