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21 November 2018

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Book Review

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Farwor, Russia

Oleg Kashin (Restless Books, $14.99)

Kashin’s allegorical novel is set closer to the present day, lampooning the corporatist, verticalized state that Russia has morphed into since the turn of the twenty-first century.

A self-taught scientist discovers a growth serum that promises to transform agriculture (and child-rearing, and the diminutive size of political and business leaders). But, this being Putin’s Russia, rather than make the most of the discovery, the Powers That Be opt to bury it (along with countless other breakthroughs), so that they can hold businesses hostage and demand protection be paid to the state-controlled enterprise Olympstroi (which has no intention of holding the Sochi games, only at raking in Olympian scale bribes).

Kashin completed his novel in 2010, just two months before his notoriously brutal beating at the hands of goons he later said were sicked on him by a corrupt regional boss. The cause of the attack, he alleges, was an online remark he posted about the boss – proving if nothing else that words still carry great meaning.

Fardwor, Russia! is short, offbeat, and satisfying. While it is not a searing indictment of modern Russia, it does put things on a gently humorous simmer. The blending of fact and fiction, of real life personages with pseudonymous anti-heroes, and the injection (pun intended) of science fiction motifs adds to the attraction.

Readers less familiar with Russian realities will probably miss many of the more subtle cultural references, but the general import, that Russia is a land of great potential limited by the greed and short-sightedness of its leaders, will be lost on no one. Nor will most miss the profound understatement of a Kashin’s throw-away line toward the book’s end:

“Big systems always have logistical problems.”

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2016