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Buddha's Little Finger
ISBN 0670891681 / 9780670891689 / 0-670-89168-1
Publisher Viking Adult
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At one point in the hallucinatory trip that is Buddha's Little Finger, the protagonist regains consciousness in a cold-water bath, with a large, naked man prodding him awake and cheerfully acknowledging that the situation "might seem quite unbearably loathsome. Inexpressibly, inhumanly monstrous and absurd. Entirely incompatible with life." That would be an understatement. Yet Victor Pelevin, who's already produced such post-perestroika gems as Omon Ra and The Life of Insects, gets plenty of comic mileage out of Pyotr Voyd's dilemma. He also puts identity, reality, and existence up for grabs, and toys with time and continuity much as Italo Calvino did in his exhilarating If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
A poet from St. Petersburg, Pelevin's hero finds himself caught in a temporal tug of war: on one hand, he's walking a tightrope between Reds and Whites during the Russian Revolution, and on the other, he's floating in and out of the bizarre world of a psychiatric hospital in 1990s Moscow. The revolutionary era does offer Pyotr the occasional boost. His commander, the sly and intellectually provocative comrade Chapaev, tells him that he is a "man of decisive character and at the same time you have a subtle appreciation of the essential nature of events. People like you are in great demand."
That's not the sense he gets in the hospital, however, where he passes the time kneading lumps of Plasticene and sketching busts of Aristotle. Sharing a room and "turbo-Jungian" therapy sessions with three other nutters, Pyotr is all too easily submerged in their intricate fantasies. Sound complicated? Well, Pelevin offers up these parallel lives in such a kaleidoscopic jumble that it's sometimes easy to get lost. Yet those readers willing to follow the hero in his travails--to make, as it were, a leap into the Voyd--will encounter a hilarious, disturbing, and wildly inventive exploration of reality. --S. Ketchum [via]