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The Slynx (New York Review Books Classics)…

The Slynx (New York Review Books Classics) (original 2000; edition 2000)

by Tatyana Tolstaya, Jamey Gambrell (Translator)

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377None29,317 (3.76)56
Title:The Slynx (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:Tatyana Tolstaya
Other authors:Jamey Gambrell (Translator)
Info:NYRB Classics (2007), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library, Fiction, Translation, Read in 2012

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The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya (2000)

  1. 10
    Homo Zapiens by Viktor Pelevin (prezzey)
    prezzey: Russian literary fiction with speculative fiction elements. The best of both worlds!
  2. 00
    Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (agmlll)

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Your standard dystopian fare with a focus on social stratification and the information that is available to the higher classes. The book makes several interesting points about the differences in being able to read and the ability to understand and put what you've read into context. I think this book is most likely a much better story read in the original Russian, there seemed to be hints of playing with language and the alphabet,that was lost in translation to me. ( )
  bethanyinthetaiga | Apr 8, 2014 |
[The Slynx] by Татьяна Толстая

"Ah, what a day! The night’s storm had passed, the snow gleamed all white and fancy, the sky was turning blue, and the high elfir trees stood still. Black rabbits flitted from treetop to treetop."

Fyodor- Kuzmichsk (Moscow) after the blast, freethinking is banned and books are transcribed and sold as the beloved leader’s own words. Benedikt, has a pretty nice job as a scribe, but still has to trudge home to his hovel to have watery mouse soup.

This is a book that didn't really fit its reader. It’s a rich satire and fine dystopian world building. The plot, well this is not an adventure novel. Split in a way into two parts, the 1st enjoyable world building and tale of the proles, the second X shifts into wealth and power and becomes obsessed with reading and taking books with (off) the poor

It’s just that after an exuberant start my interest started to wane. It is very clearly not a book for me, not only
because I am unfamiliar with Russian literature/politics, nor because though the translation works hard I suspect all those word puns are better in the original. No really it’s that the absurdist humour is not my own and it just grated.

But I must stress I think is still hugely accessible to anyone, even if like me you are ignorant of Pushkin. It’s well sign posted I suspect most of the time and all readers will enjoy the insatiable hunger for books or be amused by the books highly that are highly prized, yes the detritus and trash of the pot boiler left unloved and un-transcribed.

So I can't recommend it but I am aware I am probably not doing it justice. Go seek out other reviews

Benedikt coughed politely to interrupt.
“My life is spiritual”
“In what sense”
“I don’t eat mice”
( )
  clfisha | Aug 8, 2013 |

Around the same time that I was reading Murakami's nonfiction work, Underground, I also felt I could tackle a post-apocalyptic Russian novel. (I mean, what are summers for if not for some light reading, right?)

So, I have read a novella and short story collection by Tatyana Tolstaya called Sleepwalker in a Fog that I still need to get around to reviewing and I saw this novel used at Myopic Books in Chicago and picked it up. Contrary to what one might think, though, it's really not as bleak as it could be. The novel itself recalls a few fables and a more fable like writing style at some points and I really loved how the protagonist was driven mad with his incessant need to just devour books when at one point he is absolutely consumed with literature.

The whole premise of the book is that there was a blast and the survivors or "oldeners" live for hundreds of years and those born after are born with mutations or "consequences." There's a daily life of grunt work for many who live terrified of running into The Slynx and becoming ill from old books that may still contain radiation and trying to catch mice for eating and trading as well. There are ideas of both poetry and revolution and some unconventional humor as well. There were definitely passages that didn't strike me as funny while I read them but much more amusing in retrospect. It could be that Tolstaya planned for this to be taken as much more bleak than I actually took it but compared to other novels with similar topics, I found it to be much more whimsical overall than I had prepared myself for.

Memorable quotes:

pg. 7 "They said that in the south there's an azure sea, and in that sea there's an island, and on that island there's a tower, and in that tower there's a golden stove bed. On that bed there's a girl with long hair-one hair is gold, the next is silver, one is gold, and the next is silver. She lies there braiding her tresses, just braiding her long tresses, and as soon as she finishes the world will come to an end."


"There's a great river, three years' walk from here. In that river there's a fish-Blue Fin. It talks with a human voice, cries and laughs, and swims back and forth across that river. When it swims to one side and laughs, the dawn starts playing, the sun rises up in the sky, and the day comes. When it goes back, it cries, drags the darkness with it, and hauls the moon by its tail. All the stars in the sky are Blue Fin's scales."

pg. 13 "Two hundred and thirty-three years Mother lived on this earth. And she didn't grow old. They laid her in the grave just as black-haired and pink-cheeked as ever. That's the way it is: Whoever didn't croak when the Blast happened doesn't grow old after that. That's the Consequence they have. Like something in them got stuck."

pg. 77 "It's dark in winter-like someone poked your eyes out."

pg. 85 "But sometimes you don't feel like getting mad. It's like there's a sadness inside. Like you feel sorry for someone. Must be feelosophy."

pg, 89 "Something sour rose in his chest and he felt weak. IT was already dark. The middle of the day and it was evening; that's winter for you. The pale sunsetting sky, tree branches etched against it like you drew them with coals. The nests looked like tangles of hair. A rabbit flitted by. Below, the sad blue of the snow ridges, hillocks, drifts. The dilapidated black pickets of the fence sticking up like an old comb. It was still visible, but whent he sunset went out you wouldn't be able to see anything at all in the pitch dark. The stars would come out, their milky, feeble light would pour across the vault of the sky as though someone were mocking him, or didn't care, or these heavenly lights weren't meant for us...

"Benedikt signed deeply. He even heard his own sigh. There it goes again. A kind of spitting in the head again. Everything was fine: simple, clear, happy, he was full of all kinds of nice dreams, and then suddenly it was like someone came up behind him and scooped all the happiness out of his head...Like they plucked it out with a claw."

pg. 146 "And the moon in its insanity
Is reflected in your eyes, I see."

pg. 148 "You smoke, sigh, gaze off into the distance, and your head is empty. But once again visions fill it."


"...up above the sky shone even and yellow, smoldering its last; every now and then a swipe of pink would tint the yellow, or a gray cloud would stretch like a spindle, hang there a bit until its top would stain raspberry, flare, and be gone. Like someone was rubbing the sunset, smearing it with his fingers."


"Her eyes took up half her face, from under the eyebrows to the temples on the sides, dark eyes, but they sparkled like water in a barrel at midnight. And she looks straight through you with those eyes, looks like she wants to say something but never will, not for anything. She never takes her eyes off you. seems like she's going to laugh, or is waiting for a question, or like she'll start singing with her mouth closed."

pg. 171 "Why are our eyes on our forehead and not on our rear ends, right? Nature is giving us directions."

pg. 204 "You, Book! You are the only one who won't deceive, won't attack, won't insult, won't abandon! You're quiet-but you laugh, shout , and sing; you're obedient-but you amaze, tease, and entice; you're small but you contain countless peoples. Nothing but a handful of letters, that's all, but if you feel like it, you can turn heads, confuse, spin. cloud, make tears spring to the eyes, take away the breath, the entire soul will stir in the wind like a canvas, will rise in waves and flap its wings! Sometimes a kind of wordless feeling tosses and turns in the chest, pounds its fists on the door, the walls: I'm suffocating! Let me out! How can you let that feeling out, all fuzzy and naked? What words can you dress it in? We don't have any words, we don't know! Just like wild animals, or a blindlie bird, or a mermaid-no words, just a bellowing. But you open a book and there they are, fabulous flying words..."

pg. 211 "...why is it that everything keeps mutating, everything ? people, well, all right, but the language, concepts, meaning! Huh? Russia! Everything gets twisted up in knots."

pg. 238 "He grew heavier. Not even so much from food as from heavy thoughts."

pg. 249 "It's hard to stay mad when you're singing: if you open your mouth the wrong way, you'll ruin the song."

pg. 264 "From the tower you could see far away. Far away...There wasn't even a word in the language to say how far you could see from the tower! And if there was a word like that, you'd be scared to say it out loud. Oooooh, so far away! To the farthest of far, the edge to the edge, to the limit of limits, all the way to death! The round pancake of the earth, the whole heavenly vault, the entire cold December, the whole city with all its settlements, with its dark , lopsided izbas-empty and wide open, gone over with the fine-tooth comb of the Saniturions' hooks and still inhabited, still swarming with scared, senseless, stubborn life!"

pg. 273 "No more tyranny allowed! It was getting too darn fashionable!"
( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
One of the best post-apocalyptic (or fantasy) books I've ever read. Disturbing. If I understood Russian history better, I would have gotten more out of it -- but even I could tell how ingeniously she drew on centuries of Russian history & literature. ( )
  kgib | Mar 31, 2013 |
Let him stand there strong and safe, his legs in chains, head in the clouds, his face to the south, to the endless steppe, to the far-off dark blue seas.I am absolutely convinced that everyone must read this book. Unfortunately, unlike that other book I said the same of, [book:Les Misérables|24280], I have no great moral undertakings or social justice to spur readers forward with. No musical either. Not even a movie. Instead, I have an old review, a few big name references, and ah yes. Logos. Lots of that, as per usual.

By the way, the ‘old’ review is a little more than two years in longevity, and is the type of construct that doesn’t astound me, per se, as much as give me the feeling of, huh. Younger self wasn’t as nearly as lost or confused or failing in general as I thought. Good job, younger self. I can still feel you in there, somewhere, much as Benedikt near the end of the book still has the essence of Benedikt at the beginning of the book. I do hope my evolving into my current self wasn’t nearly as, well, how did you put it, younger self.

...the progression the main character goes from man to monster. 1984 has nothing on how easily he slips into the mindset of what he fears above all else…the transition beautiful in its slick descent…

Let me reiterate: good job, younger self.

The mention of 1984 reminds me that there is a book here waiting patiently to slynx its way into future brains and diabolical temperaments of the literature kind, so let’s get some of the standard dry stuff out of the way, shall we, in the form of stating that this is a Russian dystopic novel. I’m going to let that simmer while I expound on what that actually means for us, the readers, during our journey through said novel, a novel so subsumed in the mind of the character, the character so melded with their world, the world so saturated in that feeling of, yes, this is life after the destruction when the wisps of culture flurrying down are starting to collide with the aborted imaginative risings of the populace, that you have to wonder where Tatyana Tolstaya got that time machine, and more importantly, how the hell she made her way back in both time and prose.

Although the truth of the matter is, you take one look at said Benedikt character, the star of this post-apocalyptic tragi-comedy as only the Russians can write them, and you know it’s all the author. As put by younger self:

It is much more concerned with the mentality of the populace, the complete ignorance and great practicality the denizens of this fallout zone are capable of.

Too true. And this practicality does not include putting the mind down with pen with any measure of accuracy or skill. However, I wish to add that Benedikt is a special type, prone in his words to being ‘newrottick’ and an especial victim of ‘feelosophy’, where all the raucously hilarious ignorance and practicality cannot save him when his mind, ever grasping onto reality with conjectures and explanations and densely woven meanderings of thought, begins to shiver in the dark under an eye unseen. Fear is the price of imagination, and Benedikt has been cursed to wander a realm where esoteric political discussions trickle down through the mouths of radiation-stricken immortals, culture has schizophrenicked into scraps and bits of precious knowledge that where not lost are laughably, horribly misunderstood, and the only solution to the excess of imagination is a book.

This book. This book describes the addiction to literature I have in excruciating detail. It makes me appreciate the wealth of knowledge I have in comparison to the main character, for what is reading if you don't understand it?

Indeed, younger self. Indeed. For Benedikt is not only driven by the tentacles of his neurons towards an item that his civilization has the most complex relations with of any object (someone along the line read 1984 and began to fear Freethinking and all its delicious growths, also known as the Illness, more deadly than radioactivity and guaranteed to get you ‘treatment’), there’s a good chance he has photographic memory. For him, a book is as good as a shot of the purest cocaine, as easily reused once the silt has slipped the vein and bounded amongst the blood, and far, far less easy to replenish. When he has it, he has all the abject lack of caring of the mentality most indebted to Brave New World, and reality fades to a speck in the corner of that lack. When he doesn’t, oh. As said previously, 1984 cannot even begin to compare.

And in the words of Benedikt, mor-allity? He knows the Law of Everyone’s a Thief, he knows the Comedic Game of Broken Limbs and Injuries Stopping Short at Death, he knows the Governmental Approach to Dirty, Grimy Golbuchiks with books, precious books hidden away in their dank and filthy izbas, sitting, molding, rotting, handled by ignorance and by fear. He functions along emotions that barely register in his mind and thought patterns that strain at genius with the tools of a haphazard enlightenment that has only a decrepit world and blind society to work with.

But mor-allity? Can you eat it without dying? Drink it? Use it to catch mice aka staplehood of stable exchange of goods? Well then, what use is it? Golbuchiks? Golbuchiks are ashes, entrails, dung, stove smoke, clay, and they’ll all return to clay. They’re full of dirt, candle oil, droppings, dust.
You, O Book, my pure, shining precious, my golden singing promise, my dream, a distant call—
O tender specter, happy chance,
Again I heed the ancient lore,
Again with beauty rare in stance,
You beckon from the distant shore!
Benedikt will discover just what use it is. And you, reader who has ridden along in his mind and, as a lover of books, can empathize with the slow change and maybe perhaps further along the increasingly gory path than you wished, can follow. You’ll laugh at the antics, to be sure. But there’s so much more to the tragi-comedy for a lover of literature for one such as yourself, if you can bear to look.


Younger self's review:


This book. This book describes the addiction to literature I have in excruciating detail. It makes me appreciate the wealth of knowledge I have in comparison to the main character, for what is reading if you don't understand it?
Also, post apocalyptic at its best. No drowning in scientific garble describing the desiccated toxic surroundings. It is much more concerned with the mentality of the populace, the complete ignorance and great practicality the denizens of this fallout zone are capable of. You never find out much of what exactly happened, but frankly, that's not what counts here.
What counts is the progression the main character goes from man to monster. 1984 has nothing on how easily he slips into the mindset of what he fears above all else, all for the sake of the written word. God forbid books be as scarce and prized as they are in this world; one could hope they were valued in the real world as much as they are in this novel, but it's frightening to consider the consequences.
In addition to the transition beautiful in its slick descent are the emotional overtones, the hilarious vulgarity juxtaposed with the overwhelming depression that surfaces every so often. It is loss conveyed at its best, despair over having lost a world of light and having to grind out an existence among the remains; worst of all being able to feel the emotion but not be able to comprehend the reason behind it.
A very good read. Will definitely get you thinking, if nothing else. ( )
2 vote Korrick | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Gambrell, JameyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Benedikt pulled on his felt boots, stomped his feet to get the fit right, checked the damper on the stove, brushed the bread crumbs onto the floor — for the mice — wedged a rag in the window to keep out the cold, stepped out the door, and breathed the pure, frosty air in through his nostrils. Ah, what a day!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618124977, Hardcover)

In what remains of Moscow some two hundred years after the “Blast,” a community persists in primitive, ridiculous, and often brutal circumstances. Mice are the current source of food, clothes, and commerce, as well as a source of humor for Tatyana Tolstaya. Owning books in this society is prohibited by the tyrant, who plagiarizes the old masters, becoming his people’s sole writer. One of the tyrant’s scribes, Benedikt, is the main narrator of The Slynx. He is in love with books as objects but is unable to derive any meaning or moral benefit from them. Like the imagined, feared animal of this rollicking satirical novel’s title, Benedikt represents lust, cruelty, egotism, and ignorance. The Slynx and Benedikt are one.
As Pearl K. Bell wrote of Tolstaya’s stories on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, “The blazing vitality of [her] imagination, the high-spirited playfulness . . . place her in that uniquely Russian line of satirists and surrealists.” David Remnick has called her “the most promising of all the ‘post-Soviet’ writers . . . She sounds like no one else.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:54 -0400)

"In what remains of Moscow some two hundred years after "the Blast," a community persists in primitive, ridiculous, and often brutal circumstances. Mice are the current source of food, clothes, and commerce as well as humor. Owning books in this society is prohibited by the tyrant, who plagiarizes the old masters, becoming his people's sole writer." "One of the tyrant's scribes, Benedikt, is the main narrator of The Slynx. He is in love with books as objects but is unable to derive any meaning or moral benefit from them. In the dystopian world of her satirical first novel, Tatyana Tolstaya addresses lust, cruelty, egotism, and ignorance through Benedikt's distorted eyes. Throughout the novel lurks the Slynx, the imagined catlike creature whose fearsome, shadowy presence threatens the mice and the humans alike."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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