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The Slynx (2000)

by Tatyana Tolstaya

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8202626,253 (3.62)85
New in Paperback "A postmodern literary masterpiece." -The Times Literary Supplement Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn't one to complain. He's got a job--transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great new leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe--and though he doesn't enjoy the privileged status of a Murza, at least he's not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he's happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills, no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he's managed--at least so far--to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.   Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx reimagines dystopian fantasy as a wild, horripilating amusement park ride. Poised between Nabokov's Pale Fire and Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, The Slynx is a brilliantly inventive and shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of a degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia's past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.… (more)
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» See also 85 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
I find this almost impossible to review. Terrifying and humorous at the same time. A post apocalyptic Tsarist-Soviet fantasy. Pieces of Borges, Burgess, Gaiman, Hoban, and Walter Williams come to mind. I laughed my ass off at times. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
Written in a mixture of first, second, and third person, this novel about a post-Blast Moscow is a stinging commentary of the second half of the 20th century Russian politics. Everyone's a mutant, life is an abominable mess, and the people are fed selected bundles of art and literature by a familiar sounding State. Themes include the dangers and joys of art, man's vile and selfish nature, and those transcendental moments evoked by poetry and landscape. What, really, makes us civilized? Or, have we ever been?
My only qualm is that I don't know enough about Russian history and literature to understand the subtler intentions of the book. A , though, would read again. With Wikipedia close by. ( )
  MaryJeanPhillips | Jun 22, 2022 |



Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx is a jewel among the list of classics published by New York Review Books, a post-apocalyptic satire taking place two hundred years after “the Blast” in what was the city of Moscow. Human society has reverted to a state more primitive than a village in the darkest age of medieval, dark-age Europe. And that’s understatement - mice provide the main diet and are used for barter and trade; fire is a source of magic forcing people to rely on “stokers” to keep their stoves going; strong taboos and prohibitions surround writing and books.

Life from end to end is filthy and brutish – even some of the population serve as beasts of burden while others born following the Blast have all sorts of bodily deformations: gills, one eye, cockscombs, nostrils growing out of their knees, webs between fingers, long tails, claws instead of feet. Not exactly the stuff of Madison Avenue.

The novel’s main character is Benedikt, a young man who is, as the saying goes, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Among those Benedikt deals with are some Olderners, that is, people who survived the Blast and miraculously continue living for hundreds of years. I suppose one can infer such longevity is the result of direct exposure to the aftereffects of the Blast.

Benedickt’s mother was one such Olderner, a woman who would still be alive if she hasn’t been poisoned by a nebulous something or other, perhaps a critter, known as a fireling. Poor mum, she pined over the loss of those pre-Blast days where she could visit deportment stores and booticks - and, yes, such bending of language runs through the entire novel. Jamey Gambrell deserves special praise for her English translation from the Russian in what must have been one of her most challenging projects.

All in all, a peculiar, highly original work of fiction having more than a little in common with Russian absurdist author Daniil Kharms. For those unfamiliar with Kharms, he wrote a story where a man not only loses his handkerchief, hat, jacket and boots but also loses himself. One of his plays features Pushkin and Gogol who do nothing but repeatedly trip and fall over each other and another play with several characters running out on stage one at a time only to vomit followed by a young girl telling the audience they might as well go home since all the actors are sick.

So, we may ask, why did Tatyana Tolstaya, granddaughter of Aleksei Tolstoy and grandniece of Leo Tolstoy, author of two previous collections of lyrical, poetic short stories, spend four years (1996-2000) devoting herself to writing a three hundred page wacky dystopian novel?

One reasonable answer is such a tale gave Ms. Tolstaya a broad literary canvas to make sharp, penetrating observations on the nature of language, art and literature, particularly in the context of her own country’s history. Additionally, a reader can sense elements of Russian folktales popping up now and again. But, let me underscore, on the level of sheer storytelling The Slynx is highly entertaining, a lively humdinger featuring all flavors of screwy high jinx. To take one small example, someone's chickens go mad, start to talk like people and lay big, creepy-looking eggs.

The many references to literature and the arts are among the most fascinating parts of the novel. Here are a few of my favorites:

There’s Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe, a puffed up leader who feeds the population heaps of lies and other assorted crap. Among the long list, he claims to be the author of all sorts of poetry and prose, the work of Pushkin in particular, and even decides to write a shoppinghower and calls it The World as Will and Idea. He goes on to say art for art sake is no good since art should be connected to life. Oh, my, with this statement, we hear echoes of Leo Tolstoy’s famous What is Art?. A number of characters attempt to address questions revolving around the purpose and nature of writing and the arts.

One of the Oldeners, Nikita Ivanich, the Head Stoker, makes his presence felt throughout the tale. Old Nikita (I couldn’t help but think of Khrushchev) says he wants to keep memory alive and hopes for a spiritual runnysauce (his word for renaissance). Old Nikita’s notions of art are linked with improving morals. Yet again another dimension explored within The Slynx.

Meanwhile Benedikt’s marriage gives him access to his father-in-law’s library where he can immerse himself in books. At one point he observes: “You read, move your lips, figure out the words, and it’s like you’re in two places at the same time: you’re sitting or lying with your legs curled up, your hands groping in the bowl, but you can see different worlds, far-off worlds that maybe never existed but still seem real. You run or sail or race in a sleigh – you’re running away from someone, or you yourself have decided to attack – your heart thumps, life flies by, and it’s wondrous: you can live as many different lives as there are books to read.”

Fantastic! Even someone like Benedikt who isn’t exactly scholar material (he thinks The Gingerbread Man is a scary story since the fox eats the Gingerbread Man in the end) can enlarge their imagination and multiply mental vistas. It might be claimed Benedict uses literature primarily as an escape rather than other, more profound reasons to engage with books and ideas, but who knows where even Benedikt’s escapism might lead since tapping the imagination can open up so many worlds.

Imagination brings us to the Slynx. Beware! Old people say, “The Slynx sits on dark branches and howls a wild, sad howl - eeeeennxx, eeeeennxx, eenx-a-leeeeeeennxx! - but no one ever sees it.” The Slynx will bite you, take away your reason and make you go crazy and then you’ll just die.

What can the Slynx represent? Is it the destructive animal side of the novel’s men and women with their tails and claws? Or, is the Slynx the power of imagination and mythmaking that grabs us so we can undergo the needed death and transformation that will empower us become more complete selves? As Charles Bukowski said, “You have to die a few times before you can really live.”

The Slynx as the creature that sets our imagination on fire, in this case the very novel we are reading. Personally, above all others, I favor this interpretation - The Slynx is the Slynx.

Special thanks to my Goodreads friends Jeffrey Keeten and MJ Nicholls for their glowing reviews that prompted me to give The Slynx a whirl.



“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!”
― Tatyana Tolstaya, The Slynx ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The grand-niece of Leo Tolstoy, has written an inventive novel of the dystopian future, 200 years after an event known as 'the Blast.' People live in primitive circumstances, surviving primarily on mice, and most have a 'Consequence' from the Blast. Our hero, Benedikt, thinks he is Consequence-free, until one of the 'Oldeners' tells him that humans did not have tails before the Blast. (The Oldeners are a limited number of people who were alive at the time of the Blast, and whose Consequence is that they do not age or die).

The town is ruled by the despot Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe, who issues inane decrees. The people fear his decrees, they fear the Saniturions, who come in the middle of the night to 'disappear' people who have 'the illness,' and they fear the Slynx, a monster lurking somewhere outside the town where no one dares venture. The novel is the tale of Benedikt's life, beginning with his lowly origins.

The book's themes are similar to other dystopian novels (think 1984 or Animal Farm), and the apocalyptic setting satisfied my taste for 'end of the world' novels.

It was also interesting to read a novel by a descendant of Tolstoy. There is definitely a Russian ambiance to the novel. References to Russian literature and poetry, particularly Pushkin, are also an important element. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Feb 9, 2017 |
I'm only giving this two stars because it's such an interesting idea that just seemed poorly executed. I thought I would love this book (Russian dystopian!) but I found myself getting bored pretty quickly. Between the lack of plot structure and the excessive use of punctuation (?!!) The Slynx lost it's charm after about 50 pages. ( )
  PagesandPints | Sep 1, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tatyana Tolstayaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gambrell, JameyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Körner, ChristianeTranslatorsecondary 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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New in Paperback "A postmodern literary masterpiece." -The Times Literary Supplement Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn't one to complain. He's got a job--transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great new leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe--and though he doesn't enjoy the privileged status of a Murza, at least he's not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he's happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills, no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he's managed--at least so far--to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.   Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx reimagines dystopian fantasy as a wild, horripilating amusement park ride. Poised between Nabokov's Pale Fire and Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, The Slynx is a brilliantly inventive and shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of a degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia's past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.

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