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"An inventive comedy as black as outer space itself. Makes The Right Stuff looks like a NASA handout."—Tibor Fischer.
Victor Pelevin's novel Omon Ra has been widely praised for its poetry and its wickedness, a novel in line with the great works of Gogol and Bulgakov: "full of the ridiculous and the sublime," says The Observer [London]. Omon is chosen to be trained in the Soviet space program the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. However, he enrolls only to encounter the terrifying absurdity of Soviet protocol and its backward technology: a bicycle-powered moonwalker; the outrageous Colonel Urgachin ("a kind of Sovier Dr. Strangelove"—The New York Times); and a one-way assignment to the moon. The New Yorker proclaimed: "Omon's adventure is like a rocket firing off its various stages—each incident is more jolting and propulsively absurd than the one before."
A rising star in the Russian literary firmament (see The Yellow Arrow, below), Pelevin, winner of the 1993 Russian Booker Prize for short stories, has written a parody of life under Communism refracted through the prism of the Soviet space program. This clever parable about a young cosmonaut ordered to make the ultimate sacrifice--killing himself after secretly piloting a supposedly unmanned lunar expedition--is sprinkled with throwaway gags, absurdist humor and wickedly ironic touches, as well as with the eerie beauty of space exploration. Obsessed with space travel since early childhood, Omon Krivomazov identifies with Ra, the ancient Egyptian falcon-headed sun god, a fixation that reflects his desire to escape the gray conformity of Soviet life and his yearning for a soul. Omon learns that more than 100 of his fellow cosmonauts have already been sacrificed as guinea pigs after taking part in supposedly automated, manless launches. Pelevin portrays the Russian space program as a vast propaganda enterprise, a distraction to paper over the tawdriness and fear of everyday life. Many allusions will be lost on American readers. And, in light of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction state of contemporary Russian society, some of the Soviet-era satire seems oddly tame. Nevertheless, as captured in Bromfield's superb translation, Pelevin is blessed with a distinctive mix of eloquence and nervous energy, inventive storytelling and subversive wit.