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"The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is one of those rare books that truly and completely defies classifiation.

Rather than a straightforward fiction or genre story, Victor Pelevin's symbolism-crammed book hops from one style to another -- Eastern mysticism, Russian urban fantasy, inhuman love story, wildly funny satire and postmodern exploration of Russia's place in a post-Soviet world. Despite the wealth of symbolism and a heavy dose of Buddhist philosophy woven in,, it's not stuffy or boring -- instead it's a wickedly funny personal journey that slowly slips into a bittersweet pathos as our shapechanging heroine learns some truths of the universe.

A Hua-li is a werefox -- an ancient, genderless creature with a hypnotic tail, a currently obscene name, who feeds off the energy emanated by humans during sex. She's also a virgin, and is starting to get an "old maid complex."

And to stay energized, she works as a prostitute in Russia -- she doesn't have actual sex with her clients, but manipulates them with her tail. But after some disastrous encounters, she finds herself being investigated by the Russian authorities -- and particularly by the handsome Alexander, a werewolf who transforms and molests A Hua-li. She's shocked but captivated by the young werewolf, and soon they're in the middle of a passionate affair. Yeah, great message to be sending.

The subject of the super-werewolf prophecy comes up when A Hua-Li's older sister and her flaky English aristocrat hubby come for a visit, with said hubby intent on becoming the super-werewolf himself. And A Hua-Li sees the werewolves being used to call oil from a dry well. But when a shocking change comes over her werewolf paramour, A Hua-Li must reexamine their relationship as she keeps her lover safe -- and reveal what the prophecy of the super-werewolf truly means.

Buddhism, wereanimals, aristocrat/chicken-hunting, mass media, Rainbow Streams, Nabokov, DVD sex games and hypnotic tails who contain all the truth of the universe. Victor Pelevin has a knack for bizarre postmodern fiction that is rarely seen outside a Haruki Murakami book -- and "The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is like a brightly coloured mosaic of randomly sized and shaped pieces, which nevertheless manage to fit together. It's a weird and sometimes confusing ride, but somehow it all clicks at the end.

Along that ride, we're privy to A Hua-Li's intricate meditations on everything from sex to watermelons -- often described in carefully numbered lists. Pelevin fills his meandering storyline with literary allusions (hello, Nabokov!) and infuses it with plenty of wry humour ("We foxes are keen hunters of English aristocrats and chickens"). There's even a hilarious scene where Alexander and A Hua-Li contemplate what DVD movies they should play out as their sex games ("Listen, how old are you, twelve?" "Okay, let's forget the Matrix").

Yet he has a knack for hauntingly memorable scenes as well. Any creature as ancient as A Hua-li will have a sense of bittersweetness in their life, and her view of her lover's shocking transformation and his subsequent fear and confusion are striking. And as the book winds toward its esoteric end, Pelevin unrolls a heavy swathe of Buddhist philosophy that finally explains who/what the super-werewolf is, and what the prophecy means. Let's just say that it's not your average "chosen savior of Group X" prophecy.

And modern Russia, as Pelevin paints it, is all grimy cold urbanity speckled with American products and foreign businessmen. He injects a lot of symbolism (Alexander, the oil well, the super-werewolf, the hypnotic tails that can reveal the true nature of things) as well as a mocking satirical edge (a doomed aristocrat's nonsensical ramblings about how HE can become the super-werewolf without any enlightenment).

The one thing I didn't like? A Hua-li being raped by Alexander and immediately falling for him.

But A Hua-Li is a pretty oxymoronic character -- she can be ruthless and manipulative yet loving and sweet, has the enthusiasm of the young nymphet she pretends to be yet is ancient and experienced beyond even her own measure. And Alexander is her total opposite -- rough, brash, traditional yet modern, and possessing a straightforward mind that struggles with the more unusual spiritual paths of the "super-werewolf." And then there's A Hua-Li's sister -- merciless and wickedly funny, especially since she marries British aristos in order to "hunt" them.

"The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is a bizarre crazy-quilt of genres -- a sort of symbolic Buddhist urban-fantasy satire, with a mingling of bittersweet and hilarious. Definitely a memorable read.
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on 26 February 2008
This book is similar to The Clay Machine Gun, in that it focuses on metaphysics, indeed, it seems to be one long metaphysical conversation at times. It is written with Pelevin's usual poetic gift for prose and it adds occasional touches of humour which are in tune with the story's sexual overtones. But I should stress that although the story is about a millenia-old prostitute, the tone is rarely tawdry. It is essentially a love/reality transcendence tail (tee hee) albeit involving a werewolf and a foxy distant Chinese relative. The tone is fairly dark at times, but this may largely be due to the presence of Nordic mythology motifs, which, if you've read the Edda, are obviously nuts!
I would also urge you to purchase it, if merely for the fact that his publishers might get round to printing his other books if this sells well!

Also, the other review for this book is actually about Numbers, which hasn't been published yet, so don't expect any bankers and Pokemon. This is about werewolves, werefoxes and the FSB, fun!
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VINE VOICEon 8 December 2010
This book is like a chocolate trifle - enjoyable at every level, full of unexpected delights, but the deeper you delve, the richer and more rewarding it gets!

Other reviewers have admirably summarised the plot, so I won't reiterate that, but the style perhaps needs a little more explanation. The setting is gritty, realistic post-Soviet Russia - a world where everyone is trying to make money however they can. And A-Hui does it by prostitution. However, since she is a millennia-old fox with illusion in her tail, she is able to perform the whole business with an air of admirable detachment. So whilst her clientele grind away, enmeshed in the illusions of their own desires, she has time to contemplate, and take the long view concerning the situation in which she finds herself.

This is why this novel works so well. The literary allusions come thick and fast - I'm sure I haven't detected them all - but they are never essential to understanding the plot. Instead they represent hidden delicacies to be savoured when found. At one level, we have the protagonist's struggle to survive once a botched assignation leads to some rather special FSB operatives taking an interest in her activities, at another we have the foxes' search for the meaning of their existence - which leads the sisters into a wide range of unorthodox activities - cruelty, martyrdom, & tantric sex...

Despite the extreme sleaziness of the world portrayed, the novel itself is never tawdry. It can be taken as an adventure of supernatural creatures in modern Russia, or a meditation on the purpose of existence - enjoy it at whatever level you wish. The philosophising is never forced; it is an integral part of the plot, and a natural character trait for a creature as ancient as A-Hui.

And the reason that it works so well is the enigmatic nature of A-Hui herself. Her name described her vulpine nature before Russian was invented, yet in modern Russian it is an obscenity. She is an ancient prostitute, but she is a virgin, and the most naive of the sisters. The contradictions inherent in her personality allows the story to be seen from various viewpoints, correspnonding to her changing moods.

The one thing this ISN'T, is a standard werewolf novel. Its Russian title is something more like "The Book of Transformations" - and it is the search for the super-werewolf - as much beyond werewolves as they are beyond humans - that is the basis of this book and the motivation of many of its characters.
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on 23 April 2014
I love Pelevin, the reincarnation of Michael Bulgakov, Philip K Dick and very possibly Hunter S Thompson. This is his best full length novel; full of hilarity, humanity and transcendence. And foxes.
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on 28 March 2011
This book is beautifully presented, the artwork on the cover should be enough to tempt any reader - although they say never judge a book by its cover - every individual is lured by different factors. I have been searching for this book for some time and with no success, However, I have discovered Amazon seems to keep the rare-reads one never seems to find in Book-stores (believe me I SPEND HOURS IN ONE)! As soon as this book arrived I was ecstatic. If you love magical realism, based on chaotic social order or just a critique of the past then this is the book to read. Wonderful book and I am so glad to be able to add it to my collection - finally! This book makes me feel as though life mustnt be taken to seriously, the animal-morphism includes aspects of an individuals inner animalism. Simpley fantastic and must be read with an open mind.
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on 30 October 2012
Just splendid book: I sea of oddball humor, irony, thin and very
touching observations about relations between people, a god handful
of east mysticism ... Highly recommended!
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on 30 April 2014
i bought this for a friend for her birthday a s a gift. it was on her wish list and i hadent heard of it before. she seemed really happy with it and it made a very personal gift.
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on 11 October 2015
An unusual mix of supernatural, philosophy and social commentary. I was not sure what to expect when this was recommended to me, but I am glad I have it. :)
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on 4 February 2015
What a book. this is truely fantastic.
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on 27 November 2009
Really disappointing and I had to throw the book in the bin today. I never throw books away but I found this book so tedious that I did not want anyone else to go through the purgatory of having to read it. The author seemed hellbent on flaunting his knowledge of post-structuralism, Eastern mysticism and word play at the expense of character development and plot. His hatred of the Russian oligarchy and apparat would have been better conveyed in an essay than in a novel. I guess he was trying to do a modern rendering of Bulgakov's Master and Marguerita. If so, he failed. I have read some puff pieces about this book in all sorts of places - shame on you FT. Don't believe the hype. And I hope they'll be no sequel.
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