Settled now in the United States, Tatyana Tolstaya, renamed by the French Robert Laffont Press, Tatiana Tolstoï (probably because the masculine form of the name is selling), nevertheless began his career in the Soviet Union, publishing stories in magazines Avrora (Aurora) and Novy Mir (New World), which, just gathered in collection, were translated into French in 1988. But yet it is her’s first novel, “The Slynx” (Кысь), which will make her known.
And “The Slynx” it’s a science fiction novel. If the post-apocalyptic genre still produced some beautiful works, evidenced by the “The Road” by Cormac MacCarthy, (Pulitzer Prize) , or “Le Monde enfin” ( The World Finally) by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, it remains that it is a particularly overused subgenre, dominated by „Mad Max”- like stories such as ”Metro 2033” by Dmitry Glukhovsky, the phenomenal success in Russia, but having a small literary value.
For his own version of the theme, Tatyana Tolstaya chose to be sociologist. It examines, throughout the 400 pages of her’s story, the features of the small urban community of Fyodor-Kuzmitchsk, a town that has followed to Moscow, ravaged more than 300 years ago by a nuclear war. If the society described by the author is relatively stable, although its reached a technical level just over the Neolithic, it is still a particularly cruel one, an even tougher cruelty that it is unmarked, morality no longer exists, the very word “moral” has disappeared from the vocabulary.
It should be noted also that the vocabulary is archaic, the translator has perfectly rendered using vocabulary and phrases directly coming from the sixteenth century. This is surprising at first, then we begin to not pay attention.
There are therefore three kinds of people, first of all: the elders, those who survived the bomb. They have become immortal, but not invulnerable to all: they can die of injury or poisoning, so they are less numerous. They are the only ones to still use the language of the twentieth century. Then come the “cute” ones, the “normal” people, descendants of the Ancients. Those are responsible for more or less monstrous physical sequelae. Finally, therefore, come the degenerators, humans reduced to the rank of ancient beasts, which serve as draft animals, although endowed with speech. However, this distinction of physical types do not overlap with social distinctions. The small world of Fyodor-Kouzmitchsk is actually divided into three groups: mourzas (noble somehow or rather the officials) headed by the Grand Murza Fyodor Kuzmich (a dwarf with huge hands) and then the “cute” ones , the ordinary freemen, and at the bottom of the scale are the serfs.
And all this small population scrapes by on a daily basis, working in part to collective tasks, partly for itself, teeming market days, where the common currency exchange is the mouse becamed the popular animal in the plates (including in the form of the “caviar eyes”). The monotony of life is just off by a few parties and the various ads of the oukazes of Fyodor Kuzmich, who spends his time and to copy and recopy the works of the ancient authors and poets while attributing to himself.
The hero of the novel, Benedikt, is also one of the copyists : “Obviously, the books, there are all kinds. Fyodor Kuzmich, glory to him, gives himself the trouble without stopping. At one time stories, at the other times poems, a novel or a thriller, or a novelette, or a tale, when it is only an essay … and the last year Fyodor Kuzmich, glory to him, deigned write a schopenhauer, and that’s one is a kind of story that it hinders shit. And must say that it was long, fuck ! It took three months to copy it, by putting ten, all broken tired” (p. 109). And now the books are copied on birch bark, as in the Russian Middle Ages, and then up to the market where they are traded off against some mice.
But Benedikt is not a copyist monk, since religion has almost completely disappeared (outside the funerals of Veterans and some common expressions as “my God”). But from simple good living guy not focused on reflection, despite his work, he will gradually turn, become more mature, with the discovery of books, true, those who survived the disaster. He will realize that Fyodor Kuzmich is not the author, and better yet, if he wants to understand the world, he must read all. Climbing by giant leaps and bounds through the ranks of society, he will become a compulsive reader, taking the time to devour everything from a knitting manual to a geography magazine from the nineteenth century, in no particular order, without preference. Everything must be read. And so it will go until he commits a coup, only to seize the personal library of Fyodor Kuzmich.
Tatyana Tolstaya’s novel is thus a complete novel, perfectly constructed and designed down to the smallest detail, in turn humorous or dramatic, philosophical or political. This is certainly a text that, after a somewhat slow start, probably due to language difficulties, quickly becomes exciting. An amazing kind.
Note that in 2007, Tatyana Tolstaya published at Eksmo Press, in a collection, “Не кысь”, which seems to be in the same universe.
Copyright © Patrice and Viktoriya Lajoye
Reposted from the authors’ blog Russkaya Fantastika with their permission. We’re thanking them !
Tatyana Tolstaya – “The Slynx“
“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.”