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The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

The Vanishing Futurist (2016)

by Charlotte Hobson

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Charlotte Hobson has written a book that touches on two subjects that interest me enormously: the Russian Revolution and time travel. Without giving away too much of the plot -- and there is a central mystery which is explained on the very first page -- suffice it to say that the real time travellers here are the author and reader. Hobson has managed to get into the mind of a young English woman who finds herself in the Moscow of 1918. That woman founds an urban commune with her friends, and the stories of their struggles to create a new life together remind me of some stories of the early kibbutzim -- such as the sharing of clothing. Hobson doesn't flinch from describing the reality of Bolshevik Russia -- the cold, the hunger, the stifling bureaucracy, the lawlessness of the secret police (the Cheka), all of this happening not in the 1930s under Stalin, but in the first year of Lenin and Trotsky's rule. She understands all that, but she also gets the excitement and the hope, and the possibilities that the overthrow of the tsarist regime opened up. An excellent first novel. ( )
  ericlee | Nov 1, 2017 |
In the 1970s, an elderly Englishwoman thinks back to her youth, specifically the five years she spent in Moscow. She went there in 1914 as a governess, to the horror of her very conventional parents - they only let her go because a stout and upstanding member of their chapel, Miss Clegg, had worked in Moscow for 10 years and made the introduction to Gerty's new employers. Miss Clegg gives Gerty advice on how to stay out of trouble, but Gerty is rebellious - "I'll do my best to encounter untowardness", she thinks.

She is soon caught up in the romance of the large, disorderly family she works for - and, when it comes, the October revolution. By mid-1918, she is part of the Institute of Revolutionary Transformation, a commune that she has established with a group of friends. Their hallmark is to believe in the perfectability of the human being, and their manifesto "declares war" on the Private, the Old and the Ego. But human nature is more stubborn than that, and the commune becomes a microcosm of the trends, good and bad, in the wider Soviet world.

Gerty is conscious of the negative impact the Revolution had on many people, and is ashamed that she and her friends ignored what they knew to be the truth. But at the same time they were caught up in a hopeful idealism, the search for better lives and better relationships. The group's ringleader, a genius and crazed scientist and engineer called Nikita Slavkin (the vanishing futurist of the title) urges them: "Each time we - just we few - allow ourselves to imagine a harmonious world, we bring it closer. We are creating a future here, in our minds." Slavkin's inventions include the Propaganda Machine, which in 5 minutes of sensory overload aimed to create socialists from bourgeouis consciousnesses. His final invention is the Socialisation Machine, which transports the user to an alternate or future world where Communism is already a reality. But when he and his machine disappear, is that his ultimate success or failure?

This was a terrific read. It took me vividly into a world which I couldn't have imagined before, both in the hardships and the idealism - and it is a plea for optimism and belief in the possibility of making things better, however hard things get. ( )
  wandering_star | Jun 12, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hobson, Charlotteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
La BocaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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What is a man? He is by no means a finished or harmonious being. No, he is still a highly awkward creature. Man, as an animal, has not evolved by plan but spontaneously, and has accumulated many contradictions...To produced a new, 'improved' version of man - that is the future task of Communism. Man must look at himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: 'At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.'

Leon Trotsky
There are things which man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
For Clio and Arthur
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"When twenty-two-year-old Gerty Freely travels to Russia to work as a governess in early 1914, she has no idea of the vast political upheavals ahead, nor how completely her fate will be shaped by them. Yet as her intimacy with the charismatic inventor, Nikita Slavkin, deepens, she's inspired by his belief in a future free of bourgeois clutter, alight with creativity and sleek as a machine. In 1917, revolution sweeps away the Moscow Gerty knew. The middle classes - and their governesses - are fleeing the country, but she stays, throwing herself into an experiment in communal living led by Slavkin. In the white-washed modernist rooms of the commune the members may be cold and hungry, but their overwhelming feeling is of exhilaration. They abolish private property and hand over everything, even their clothes, to the collective; they swear celibacy for the cause. Yet the chaos and violence of the outside world cannot be withstood for ever. Nikita Slavkin's sudden disappearance inspires the Soviet cult of the Vanishing Futurist, the scientist who sacrificed himself for the Communist ideal. Gerty, alone and vulnerable, must now discover where that ideal will ultimately lead." -- Title display.… (more)

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