Friday, May 13, 2011
I have just finished Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx. She is Leo Tolstoy's great, great niece. An old friend of mine, who sadly is no with us, was the great grand daughter of Tolstoy's personal physician, so Ms. Tolstaya and I are practically related.
The Slynx is set in a creepy, detailed, post-nuclear holocaust Russia. Tolstaya's descriptions of how the denizens of this world look are remarkable not only for what they include, but also what they omit. The action centers around Benedikt, a scribe, who marries another scribe. She happens to be the daughter of the Saniturion, the man who eliminates undesirables; their entire family has claws (I imagined them as giant rooster claws) instead of feet. One fellow scribe who is sweet on Benedikt is described as having three red chicken combs on her head. You settle into the scenes and then Tolstaya throws in an offhand reference to the number of eyes or their location on a face, and as a reader you are reminded how like and unlike our world this uncanny (Goethe would have said "unheimlich") Russia is. And one cannot help but get attached to Benedikt, because he falls in love with books, which are contraband for ordinary folk.
The translation by Jamey Gambrell is so smooth that I kept forgetting that the novel's original language wasn't English. This is the best Russian novel I've read in years.