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21 November 2018


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Book Review

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2017, by Olga Slavnikova

Krylov is a young and extremely talented gem cutter who is obsessed by transparency, with the luminous quality of rubies and other precious stones. He is also obsessed by the mysterious Tanya, with whom he has a prolonged, bizarre affair founded on exceptional uncertainties, and who - he fantasizes - will help him (as soon as he has enough money) escape the prison that is his life.

But this is the centenary of the October Revolution, and reality and fantasy, past and future, hopes and hazards, are getting hard to separate. This is a Russia of the future, where the country’s harsh realities, ecological disasters and criminality have become amplified with time. Krylov, who just wants to slough off his violent, criminal exoskeleton, finds instead that his life is getting increasingly complicated, that the noose is tightening and there may be no way out.

2017 is a novel of ideas in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, yet set in the mineral- and myth-rich Urals. Slavni­kova’s prose is dauntingly dense in the first third of the novel, and it is difficult to slog through her layering of back stories, but the payoff is well worth it. Marian Schwartz’s translation is opulent and lucid, belying the countless linguistic knots she had to unravel in order to birth this dense Booker-winning novel into English. In short, a gem.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2010