Posts Tagged ‘Jamey Gambrell’

Vladimir Sorokin “can eliminate one’s taste for lovemaking for a lifetime”

Monday, October 24th, 2011
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The silver hair is lost in black & white (Elke Wetzig / Creative Commons)

Cannibalism, kinky violence, and scatology don’t normal fall within my range of reading material, but it’s always interesting and instructive to meet the author.

In this case, one of Russia’s most celebrated writers, Vladimir Sorokin, is a gentle, soft-spoken man, awkward in English and speaking with a slight stutter.  He’s hard to miss on campus, where he has started his one-month Stanford residency:  His flowing silver hair cascades to his shoulders.

As for the butcherings and bestiality in his writing – well, I guess he’s considered kind of a sci-fi writer. The protests against his books reached a crescendo in 2002, when protesters threw copies of his book into a huge papier-mâché toilet outside Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.  (A notorious passage described sex between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev.)

During his pornography trial that year, one of his peers defended him, claiming “pornography is something that provokes indecency, yet reading Sorokin’s works can eliminate one’s taste for lovemaking for a lifetime.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

From my short piece on him:

“According to [scholar Nariman] Skakov, many readers miss the point: “The beauty is not the shocking narrative, but what he does conceptually with the text.” For example, in one book, The Queue, it’s not entirely clear what commodity the characters are lining up for, and the lines of dialogue, including snatches of conversation, roll calls, jokes, howls of rage and amorous moans, are unattributed. Still the people in line wait patiently, doggedly, with several dozen blank pages representing the times when everyone is asleep on benches.

Sorokin’s dystopian science fiction books turn our mild anxieties and worst nightmares into art. His imagined future may include a Sinified Russian language or psychopathic cults, biomodification or hallucinogenic drugs, giant carrier pigeons the size of vultures and a cloned Dostoevsky or Pasternak, with characters and narrative lines that morph into others.”

The reading, with his translator Jamey Gambrell (I reviewed her translation of Marina Tsvetaea‘s Earthly Signs in the Los Angeles Times  here), began with Day of the Oprichnik, a book that opens in a futuristic Russia where czars are back and men in narrow beards wear kaftans and carry ray guns.  The narrator has “always the same dream” …  a white horse, “the stallion of all stallions, dazzling, a sorcerer…”

It all seemed sedate enough – but I ducked out after 45 minutes for a quick dinner with Mira Rosenthal, a current Stegner fellow and translator of poet Tomasz Różycki.