The Blue Lantern Paperback – 23 Jan 1998
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About the Author
Born in Moscow in 1962, VICTOR PELEVIN has established a reputation as one of the most interesting of the younger generation of Russian writers. He has degrees from Moscow s Gorky Institute of Literature and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Granta, and Open City. He was selected by the New Yorker as one of the Best European Writers Under 35 and by The Observer as one of the 21 Writers for the 21st Century. His novel Numbers won the Grigoriev Prize from the Russian Academy of Critics 2004.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Andrew Bromfield is a translator of Russian literature and an editor and co-founder of the literary journalGlas. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most of these stories are absurdist gems, in my opinion, and a couple of them (most notably the magnificent "Hermit and Six-Toes," the austere "The tambourine of the Upper World," and the endearingly sweet "Adventures of Shed XII") easily stand amongst my favorite short stories of all time.
"Hermit And Six Toes": Not many writers can pull off a story that magically works as a satire of communist thought, an illuminating discourse on the search for meaning and truth in life, and a cute story about two chickens stuck in a meat factory. If I were ever to assemble a coursebook of philosophic fiction, "Hermit and Six Toes" would be in there with the best of Borges, Marquez, Babel, Calvino, Dick, and a couple others.
"the Tambourine of The Upper World" is an odd little mystical story that concerns death and marriage, albeit in a wayou're not expecting at all.
And "...Shed XII," wow. If anyone else tried to craft a short story about a shed the wants to be a bicycle... I wince at the thought of pomo jargonists who would just make a huge mess. But Pelevin's story is just that, a heart-rendingly effective tale about a shed that wants to be a bike. I walk away shaking my head every time I finish it, asking, "How did he do that?" A kid would love it (in fact my little brother did a book report on that story in the fifth grade!)
That's the thing I guess, some of these stories can be universally appreciated, whereas I can't imagine anyone under the age of 20 finding much enjoyment in any of Pelevin's novels.
Now, concerning the reviews... The average reviewer seems to think his novels are better than his short stories. The avergae rating of this (paperback only, the HB has aFIVE STAR RATING, I wonder why the discrepancy?) is three stars. That troubles me as, "Omon Ra," gets four and a half, as does "Buddha's Lil Finger," (formerly known as The Clay Machine Gun). I think both works start out strong, drag a bit towards the middle and resolve in a fairly decent manner (Omon Ra has a pretty tight and unexpected finish, and I enjoyed the cosmonaut's discussions of Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother"). But Pelevin really shines in his stories, he stays on focus and doesn't overload them with befuddling, pseudo-Buddhist, semi-mystical meanderings. And I even like stuff like that, I think its fun, its my bag. But his novels have tooooooo much of a good thing.
"The Life of Insects," is enjoyable, although it leans heavily on a Russian theft of Kafka. "A werewolf problem in central Russia," is also a fine collection of stories. It gets a tad too out there at times, but still, I think when Pelevin confines himself to a set of themes and characters he does a great job.
News from Nepal provides a satirical view of the work place combined with one view of what constitutes death.
Hermit and Six-Toes provides insight into mystical philosophers - philosophers who happen to be chickens on a chicken ranch.
Crystal World combines military guard duty with chemical highs during the political instability of 1917.
Nika, with a surprise ending that ensures that the story be read at at least three levels, deals with direct acceptance of the world (in contrast to the intellectual approach) and death.
Mid-Game revolves around conformity in the former Communist power structure and actual identity - in the context of street-walkers, sailors and chess.
The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII is the life of a shed who finds true self-expression in life as a bicycle. Pelevin is so good that even this artistic conceit works.
The Blue Lantern considers the nature of life and death in the context of boys in a dorm telling scary stories, stories with truly disturbing philosophical implications.
The Tambourine of the Upper World mixes the traditional wisdom of an old woman with a successful scheme to make money in the new Russian economy.
If you've not yet read Pelevin, it is time to start - and this is a good place to do so.
Several of the stories in this collection might require a bit of Soviet cultural literacy. For example, without knowing that Lenin had a bit of a speech impediment, the central irony of the story may be possibly lost on the reader unfamiliar with the Soviet cultural realities (the two White Guards, patrolling St. Petersburg streets on the eve of the 1917 uprising, discuss their respective historical missions in life; in the meantime they twice encounter Lenin but don't know it!).
Finally, "The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII," not unlike "Buddha's Little Finger" - intentionally or unintentionally - delves into the Buddhist doctrine of Sunyata/Emptiness. Even a shed - empty by definition - asks the infamous neti-neti/koan question of "Who am I?" And the shed - arguably, like human consciousness - solves its existential angst by arbitrarily identifying with one of the objects inside it (a bicycle). "The Blue Lantern" collection is a kind of metaphysical sparring between life and death.
Pavel Somov, Ph.D.
In the story my Husband read, the KEY-word was not translated correctly, therefore ruining the whole intrigue and the meaning of the story. My Husband completely missed the point (and he is very sharp & brilliant!:), and it was just for me to follow his reading, catching the mistake and translating it correctly for him.
But in general that would be a very difficult author for translation, so it probably is the best you can get. The stories are very mind-challenging anyway. My favorite - Six Toes & Thermit.