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The Slynx [Paperback]

By Tatyana Tolstaya & Jamey Gambrell (Translator)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   299
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 4.75" Height: 8"
Weight:   0.68 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 17, 2007
Publisher   NYRB Classics
ISBN  1590171969  
EAN  9781590171967  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
New in Paperback

“A postmodern literary masterpiece.” –The Times Literary Supplement

Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn't one to complain. He's got a job—transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great new leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe—and though he doesn't enjoy the privileged status of a Murza, at least he's not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he's happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills, no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he's managed—at least so far—to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.  

Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx reimagines dystopian fantasy as a wild, horripilating amusement park ride. Poised between Nabokov's Pale Fire and Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, The Slynx is a brilliantly inventive and shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of a degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia's past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.
“The hero of this spellbinding futuristic novel, a government scribe
named Benedikt, lives in a primitive settlement on the site of Moscow,
two hundred years after "the Blast." No one knows quite how the old
world was destroyed; as Benedikt puts it, "People were playing around
and played too hard with someone's arms." Citizens born after the Blast
exist on a diet of mice and "worrums" and bear frightening mutations,
or 'Consequences' -- a tail, a single eye, a head covered with fringed
red coxcombs. Other inhabitants, called Oldeners, haven't aged at all
since the Blast, and harbor memories of a lost culture that go unheeded
by their descendants. Tolstaya's radioactive world is a cunning blend
of Russia's feudal and Soviet eras, with abuse of serfs, mandatory
government service, and regulation of literature. The dangers that
threaten, however, feel more contemporary: to the south, Chechens; and
to the west a civilization that might hold some promise, except that
its members "don't know anything about us." —The New Yorker

“Though her short fiction combines a Chekhovian talent for character development with an Isaac Babeln like economy of prose, The Slynx is a complex, deeply rewarding masterwork about a man preserving the charred remains of Russian high culture.” –The Washington City Paper

"The post-nuclear world is not so different from what many readers might imagine—a mutant race has emerged, mice are an important food group, and books are banned. And to make life for the proletariat even harder, a murderous creature called the slynx is preying on the city's workers. Benedikt seems to live an almost charmed life as one of the dictator's scribes, plagiarizing liberally to make Kablukov the creator of all things wonderful and wise. Then he develops a taste for knowledge, and realizes he must be the revolution." --School Library Journal

“Tolstaya offsets layers of exquisitely constructed language with the colloquial and the idiomatic and in a similar way layers the commonplace with the supernatural. The creation of a brilliant jumble of motley metaphors is her gift – not plot, trajectory, or the arc of a story, but the plunge into the middle of dazzling verbiage, her bright universe.” –The Boston Phoenix

“Though some may already consider contemporary Russia a kind of
dystopia, things could yet be worse, as posited in Tolstaya's
intelligent debut novel (after two acclaimed story collections,
Sleepwalker in a Fog and On the Golden Porch). Some kind of nuclear
accident has turned all of Russia into a postapocalyptic wasteland,
where snow falls constantly and mice are the staple of people's diets.
Moscow has been ruled by a series of petty despots, each of whom
renames the great city after himself. The latest ruler is Fyodor
Kuzmich, who employs vast numbers of scribes to copy his writings
(actually plagiarized versions of great literary works). One of these
scribes is Benedikt, a simple man who has never actually read a book.
But Oldeners-people who survived the blast-keep secret libraries, and
when one of them introduces Benedikt to his collection, it begins a
cycle of learning that gives Benedikt serious political ambitions,
enough to start yet another Russian revolution. It takes some time for
a plot to develop, but Tolstaya sketches a vivid picture of life in
this permanent winter ("Give black rabbit meat a good soaking, bring it
to boil seven times, set it in the sun for a week or two, then steam it
in the oven-and it won't kill you"). If the author's name looks
familiar, it's because it is: Tolstaya is Leo Tolstoy's great-grandniece, so writing about Russian tyranny is something of a family tradition. In this extended fable, she captures the Russian yearning for culture, even in desperate circumstances. Gambrell ably translates the mix of neologisms and plain speech with which Tolstaya describes this devastated world. (Jan. 15) Forecast: Tolstaya is a
frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other journals, and this novel will likely benefit from its simultaneous publication with a collection of her essays (Pushkin's Children: Writings on Russia and Russians; Mariner).” Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. —Publishers Weekly

"With the publication . . . of THE SLYNX, [Tolstaya] will . . . be granted a place alongside her exalted countrymen Nabokov, Bulgakov, and Gogol . . ." —Bookforum

“In a society turned primitive by nuclear holocaust, people hunt mice
and tremble at the mention of a mysterious forest creature called the
slynx; of course, they are utterly ignorant, as books are banned. This
scenario may sound familiar, but what's new is the setting. Tolstaya, a
noteworthy essayist and short story writer descended from the mighty
Tolstoy, places her tale in a futuristic Russia and imbues it with a
Russian's typically mournful optimism. At its heart is Benedikt, scribe
to the tyrant who rules this sorry land. Timid Benedikt has yet to read
a book, but in the course of the novel he discovers the libraries owned
by the Oldeners, those who recall the world before the fateful blast.
Not surprisingly, he finds that literature is both liberating and
dangerous. The story starts slowly but gathers strength; it is
particularly interesting to see a Russian interpretation of dystopia
and to imagine parallels with Russian history. Not for your average
reader of futuristic tales, this belongs instead in all literary
collections.” [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/02.]-Barbara Hoffert,
Library Journal Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information. —Library

“A strikingly imagined first novel (after stories: On the Golden Porch,
1989; Sleepwalker in a Fog, 1992) skillfully creates a frightening and
perversely funny postnuclear world. The setting is what once was
Moscow, two hundred years after "the Blast" that leveled the
metropolis, leaving a frozen wasteland clogged with trash and populated
by a mixture of "normal" human beings and grotesque mutants. Moscow is
now called Fyodor-Kuzmichsk, in honor of its seldom-seen dictator
Kablukov, a paternalistic egotist who is reputed to have invented every
useful object now known to man and to be the author of the classic
literary works he blithely plagiarizes. A ravenous mythical beast, the
slynx, further impairs the wretched lives of oppressed workers
("Golubchiks"), prowling the ruined city's dark outskirts. And
Benedikt, a Golubchik employed as one of the numerous scribes recording
the dictator's ostensible works, naively incarnates both his people's
passive servitude, and-once he's introduced to forbidden books by
"Oldeners" who deny Fyodor Kuzmich's virtual divinity-their urge toward enlightenment and freedom. Sustained by his love for his fiancée
Olenka, and encouraged by his putative father-in-law Kudeyar
Kudeyarich, Benedikt aspires to further knowledge ("He dreamt he knew
how to fly"), loses his own mutant status (surrendering his vestigial
tail), and finds himself crucially involved in a "revolution" that ends
Fyodor Kuzmich's abuses of power even as it recycles them in different
forms. The slynx is thus less mythic than symbolic: it's the beast in
man. Tolstaya enriches this mordant farce with a wealth of weird
supporting detail reminiscent of Anthony Burgess's futuristic classic
A Clockwork Orange. An ending note informs us that The Slynx was written between 1986 and 2000, and it's easy to see why. A densely woven,
thought-provoking fantasy, and an impressive step forward for the
gifted Tolstaya.” —Kirkus Reviews
Born in Leningrad, Tatyana Tolstaya comes from an old Russian family that includes the writers Leo and Alexei Tolstoy. She studied at Leningrad State University and then moved to Moscow, where she continues to live. She is also the author of Pushkin's Children: Writings on Russia and Russians.

Jamey Gambrell is a writer on Russian art and culture. Her translations include  Marina Tsvetaeva's Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries 1917—1922 and Vladimir Sorokin's  Ice, published by NYRB Classics on December 2006.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A rich, fantastic and mutely believable post-apocalyptic Russian world  Oct 17, 2008
"What's a fable?" asks the main character of Tatyana Tolstaya's first novel - published in 2002 and now out in paperback. "A fable is a directive rendered in a simplified form for popular consumption," comes the reply.

On the surface, The Slynx is a depressing, dystopian fable of humanity after a second Fall. But a fable is rarely as simple as it seems on the surface. And, in this case, you have to dig for the directive.

Tolstaya conjures up a rich, fantastic and mutely believable post-apocalyptic Russian world that is rich in allegory and wordplay. At the center of the tale is the simple, unambitious scribe, Benedikt. When confronted by the Head Santurion (in charge of internal security), who happens to be his prospective father-in-law, he cries: "I don't know anything, I've never seen anything. Never heard anything. I don't understand anything, don't want anything, haven't dreamt anything."

It is the common cry of the innocent in the face of tyranny. And it is as false as it is irrelevant.

Benedikt of course wants something. First it is the beautiful Olenka. And then, after he discovers books, it is the calm, comfortable life of fantasy which books allow: escape from his horror- and fearstricken world.

But, for everything, there is a price. And perhaps that is the directive, the moral of this dark and fascinating fable, which Tolstaya - previously a short story writer - reportedly took a decade to write. Even in a post-nuclear world, in which mice are the basic foodstuff and common currency, it turns out that things can get worse still.

Reviewed in Russian Life
Almost the best novel ever  Aug 7, 2007
I eagely awaited the release of this book and read it as soon as it was published in its English version a few years ago. I agree with other commentators on this page who praise the "ingenious social commentary" and so forth. Indeed, right up to page 98 I felt that this book had the makings of one of the best novels ever.

However, after page 98 the magic abruptly disintegrates. I don't know how else to put it. It's a shame. Googling for details of Tatyana's life, you get some clue as to why she could not sustain the magic.
The review from Publishers Weekly is misleading  Jun 19, 2007
The review from Publishers Weekly is wrong saying that the world described in The Slynx is the world of permanent winter. The reviewer obviously have not read the book.

The book is a masterpiece of Russian language. I suppose it is equally hard to translate to English as to translate Shakespeare from English. Tolstaya's language is not a simple Russian, it is a colorful, rich literature language. Note that the book is written as if on behalf of Benedikt. And Tolstaya in a masterly fashion gives the prose a rural and still noble shade of Russia primordial. It's really enjoying.
perhaps the best of the modern Russian futuristic novels; great language  Apr 23, 2007
"The Slynx", the debut novel by Tatyana Tolstaya, the granddaughter of the Russian writer Alexey Tolstoy, is worth reading. There are many reasons to recommend this book. The first and perhaps most important one is the language - funny, full of neologisms and contrasts, bursting with life; the novel is an excellent satire on the contemporary changes in the language, its simplifications and slang. The second is the atmosphere, as if taken from a painting of a primitivist. The third are its deep roots in Russia, its history and nature, the Russian soul and destiny.

Although obviously possible to classify as a dystopia, "The Slynx" cannot really be compared to any other dystopian novels (I cannot see any resemblance to Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale, except that it is also a dystopia, which is not too much of a similarity), except the other contemporary Russian ones (it seems like the Russian writers have only futuristic visions nowadays) - and from those I have read, I enjoyed "The Slynx" the most. The other association I had was with "The Clockwork Orange", mainly because of the linguistic stylization.

The action takes place in some settlement consisting of bigger and smaller wooden huts (later we learn that it is placed on where Moscow used to be), sometime in the future, after the undefined explosion. The inhabitants are superstitious (their beliefs are wonderfully re-told old Russian folk tales; the novel is full of literary references, to the tales as well as to poetry and prose, which are delightful for the reader), they make all tools of wood, they eat mice and are scared of the slynx, an unseen, mythical creature from the forest, and of the Chechens from the South. They suffer from various mutations, or so-called "Effects" of the explosion. They never read, only praise and fear Fyodor Kuzmich, the absolute ruler, never ask questions and try, like animals, to find their place in the world of poisonous rabbits and other post-explosion deviations. The main protagonist, Benedikt, although raised among the same people and unable to really get out of his environment, has a lot of doubts, sometimes asks inconvenient questions, and reads all the books he can lay his hands on (it does not make him any wiser though, as he falls in love and marries into a rich family, which numbs him almost irreversibly). The society is surprisingly similar to the Russian society (as it is now and as it was throughout the centuries) - there is a grey mass of poor, common people and the few unscrupulous rich, there is also a special degenerated group of people from Old Times, who are used instead of horses to pull sledges (I had a most strange association with taxi drivers at this point) and, finally, The Oldeners, people who survived the Explosion and their Effect is mainly a very long lifespan. The Oldeners long for the old days (who could blame them?), keep secret libraries of forbidden books and try to preserve the old culture, which has deteriorated (their dialogues with the ordinary people cause laughter through the tears), and memories of the past. They speak the normal language of educated people and sometimes are completely clueless and childlike in the Slynx reality (paradoxically, for them, as for us, the rest of the society is childlike and clueless about the world).

There are, of course, obvious parallels to the Russian reality (I do not think that "The Slynx" can be read as a universal dystopia, it is Russian to the core). The Explosion can be explained in several ways, some would see it as Charnobyl, but most likely it is the Great Revolution, Fyodor Kuzmich is a personification of Stalin, and The Oldeners are the old intelligentsia, a class specific for the Communist countries from Eastern Europe.
"The Slynx" is enjoyable, although it is also thoroughly pessimistic and does not give any hope (although, maybe, at the very end, there is a tiny grain of hope for a change). Tatyana Tolstaya has been noted for her nihilism already after the publication of her short stories, and "The Slynx" seems to confirm this thesis. The book could be shorter, though, after a while the language gets a bit tiresome, and the ending is also not its strongest point.
Amazing  Sep 17, 2005
I would reccomend reading some of Russian history (around the time period when Stalin was president) otherwise it would be difficult to understand some parts and what Tolstaya is talking about.

I read this book in Russian and English, and of course the english translation is not nearly as good as the original Russian. However, the story is still amazing, and I love how she uses irony, and makes fun of certain concepts-it's sad, but funny at the same time!

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