Monday, December 13, 2010

REVIEW: Moscow 2042, by Vladimir Voinovich

Moscow 2042, by Vladimir Voinovich. Published 1990 by Harvest Books. Originally published in 1986. Science Fiction. Translated from the Russian.

Moscow 2042 was by far the longest book I read for my recent Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza, and probably the funniest as well. A story about what happens when Kartsev, a 20th century expatriate Russian writer living in Germany, travels 60 years into the future, it's overlong sometimes, and repetitive sometimes too, but it's also a really memorable political satire about what the USSR might look like in the year 2042.

As it turns out, the future that Kartsev finds is an absurdity. I don't want to give away too much, because a lot of the novel's fun is seeing things through Kartsev's eyes. Right away, he's greeted like royalty and given a new name to reflect his literary status in the country: Classic. Later though, Voinovich reveals the real reason these latter-day Soviets are being so nice. It has to do with a writer named Karnavalov, a friend of Kartsev's back in the old days. Karnavalov is a parody of the Soviet dissident writer, a kind of clown version of Solzhenitsyn, who believes one day he and his writings will be revered. At first it seems to Kartsev that Karnavalov has been forgotten, but that turns out not to be the case.

The future that Voinovich has created doesn't resemble Moscow's actual future at all; it's an extreme communist society that owes something to just about every major dystopia from Zamyatin to Huxley to Orwell. The sense of humor, though, is distinctly Voinovich. No topic is too small or too personal to avoid his, and the government's scrutiny and it surprised me how quickly Kartsev internalizes the crazy logic of the place.. Voinovich throws in some little self-referential touches here and there but it's really Kartsev's wide-eyed wonder (and horror) that carries the book along.

Read for Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza
Moscow 2042 isn't going to be a book for everyone. The book feels a little dated only because we know that this isn't how Moscow's future turned out, even though we're not at 2042 yet. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy satire, political dystopia and black comedy. My favorite passages occurred at the beginning, when Kartsev and his friend are debating the merits of literary versus science fiction, an obvious in-joke in a book that falls somewhere in between the two genres. Voinovich creates some genuine suspense as the reader wonders if Kartsev will ever make it back to his time; his trip is supposed to be one of limited duration but it quickly becomes clear that there may be no way out of this world gone mad. I'm a big fan of Voinovich's particular brand of satire and while I didn't love this as much as the wonderful, unforgettable Monumental Propaganda, I enjoyed my visit to the Moscow of the future.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


ImageNations said...

I have only heard good things about this novel. Is it similar Orwell's 1984?

Zibilee said...

This does sound like a great book, and somehow reminds me a little of Dead Souls, if only in style. I really think this would be an interesting read for me and I like the dystopian aspects a lot. Thanks for putting this one on my radar, and great review!

Marie Cloutier said...

Nana, it's like a parody 1984 in a way. It's funny. 1984 isn't very funny! :-)
Zibilee, it's a fun book :-)

Anonymous said...

I have heard good things about this booki...your review enhances that.

Jeanne said...

Mmm, there's no dystopia like a Russian one...I may have to check this out.

bermudaonion said...

I'm not a fan of politics, so this may not be for me.