30 October 2009

Yuri Buida, The Zero Train, 1993

The bête noire of post-Soviet writing from Russia would seem to be the question of what Stalinism did to individual lives, and The Zero Train is at heart a straightforward allegory on this theme with a straightforward answer: it sidelined them. Therefore we have a community of disparate people living in the sidings of Station Number 9, ensuring the Zero Train runs without a hitch as it passes through every day, a fast juggernaut with both an unknown cargo and an unknown destination. How the mysterious Zero Train defines the lives of these people is Buida’s meat and gravy and he spreads the allegory pretty thick, also with different meanings attached to individual lives: character X is a metaphor for this, character Y is a metaphor for that. It’s a lively and lyrical read though I made the mistake of expecting proper characterisation, which is clearly not Buida’s point at all. A second reading would probably explain more, but thankfully the translator’s afterword answered many of the questions I was inevitably left asking. Complex and slightly mad, and certainly entertaining.  PY


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