Russian novelist Victor Pelevin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most brilliant young writers at work today. His comic inventiveness and mind-bending talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him a "psychedelic Nabokov for the cyber-age." In his third novel, Buddha's Little Finger, Pelevin has created an intellectually dazzling tale about identity and Russian history, as well as a spectacular elaboration of Buddhist philosophy. Moving between events of the Russian Civil War of 1919 and the thoughts of a man incarcerated in a contemporary Moscow psychiatric hospital, Buddha's Little Finger is a work of demonic absurdism by a writer who continues to delight and astonish.
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At one point in the hallucinatory trip that is Buddha's Little Finger, the protagonist regains consciousness in a cold-water bath, with a large, naked man prodding him awake and cheerfully acknowledging that the situation "might seem quite unbearably loathsome. Inexpressibly, inhumanly monstrous and absurd. Entirely incompatible with life." That would be an understatement. Yet Victor Pelevin, who's already produced such post-perestroika gems as Omon Ra and The Life of Insects, gets plenty of comic mileage out of Pyotr Voyd's dilemma. He also puts identity, reality, and existence up for grabs, and toys with time and continuity much as Italo Calvino did in his exhilarating If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
A poet from St. Petersburg, Pelevin's hero finds himself caught in a temporal tug of war: on one hand, he's walking a tightrope between Reds and Whites during the Russian Revolution, and on the other, he's floating in and out of the bizarre world of a psychiatric hospital in 1990s Moscow. The revolutionary era does offer Pyotr the occasional boost. His commander, the sly and intellectually provocative comrade Chapaev, tells him that he is a "man of decisive character and at the same time you have a subtle appreciation of the essential nature of events. People like you are in great demand."
That's not the sense he gets in the hospital, however, where he passes the time kneading lumps of Plasticene and sketching busts of Aristotle. Sharing a room and "turbo-Jungian" therapy sessions with three other nutters, Pyotr is all too easily submerged in their intricate fantasies. Sound complicated? Well, Pelevin offers up these parallel lives in such a kaleidoscopic jumble that it's sometimes easy to get lost. Yet those readers willing to follow the hero in his travails--to make, as it were, a leap into the Voyd--will encounter a hilarious, disturbing, and wildly inventive exploration of reality. --S. KetchumAbout the Author:
Victor Pelevin is the author of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories, The Life of Insects, Omon Ra, The Yellow Arrow, and The Blue Lantern, a collection of short stories that won the Russian "Little Booker" Prize. His novel Buddha's Little Finger was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He was named by The New Yorker as one of the best European writers under thirty-five and by The Observer newspaper in London as one of "twenty-one writers to watch for the 21st century."
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