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15 November 2018

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Moscow Philosophy and Falling Sky

“It should come as no surprise,” writes Vyacheslav Pyetsukh at the beginning of The New Moscow Philosophy, “that where literature goes life follows, that Russians not only write what they live but in part live what they write…”

The infusion of Russian literature into life is a theme central to all three of these new fiction offerings – from a Russian, a Canadian and an American. Pyetsukh’s absurd novel (published in Russian in 1989 and only now translated – very fluidly – by Krystyna Anna Steiger) ruminates on this aspect self-consciously, spinning a murder mystery out of a riff on Raskolnikov’s killing of the old woman in Crime and Punishment, while at the same time considering why Russians’ sense of self (National Idea, anyone?) is so bound up with their internal discourse. Not unlike, perhaps, a Raskolnikovian internal monologue.

Pyetsukh’s Dostoyevskian drama unfolds in a Moscow communal apartment at Petroverigsky Lane 12, in the mid- to late 1980s. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, in Caroline Adderson’s stunningly visual novel The Sky is Falling, the story centers on a Canadian communal apartment of sorts during the same era.

The main character Jane, is at university studying Russian literature, and has just moved into a home she will share with three other students, each trying to be more radical than the next. Jane soon finds the lines blurring between life and Russian literature. Indeed, the novel begins with a Chekhovian off-stage shot: the downing of KAL 007 by a Soviet MiG. Galvanized by their fear of nuclear war, the housemates become involved in the anti-nuclear movement and launch on trajectories that, 20 years on, none of them could have anticipated.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Sep/Oct 2011