The loudest, longest laughter is born out of the need to keep from crying. That is the well that Oleg Kashin plumbed for Fardwor, Russia!, his wildly satirical novel, assuming that it is possible to satirize Putin’s Russia. The full title is “Fardwor, Russia — A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin,” and there’s enough truth in the fiction to make this a satire that cuts down to the bone.
Oleg Kashin is a journalist and since honest journalists lose their jobs in Putin’s Russia, he’s also a blogger. Shortly after he finished Fardwor, Russia! , he was beaten and left for dead. His assailants are known. They have even been arrested, though released and have not been prosecuted. Nor has there been any investigation of the politician who hired them to punish Kashin for insulting him. Such is life in a gangster oligarchy.
In Fardwor, Russia! , Karpov and his wife Marina move to Karpov’s hometown so he can perfect an invention he has bubbling in his head, a growth serum that can make little people tall and grow a baby animal into an adult in a week. His grandfather has worked on something similar back in the day when adherence to Lamarckian genetics starved the Russian people. His grandfather failed, but Karpov succeeded. He dreamed of striking it rich, but that’s not how things work in Putin’s Russia. If anyone is going to get rich off his serum, it won’t be Karpov who is promptly detained.
Things have a way of not working out. The brother (and co-inheritor) of a famed oligarch who lived in obscurity because of his size ran off with Karpov’s wife. Worse, his loving brother who was happy to share the wealth with a brother who never left his house was not going to welcome a full-sized, handsome brother–a competitor in his eyes. So he killed him. A lot of people die, quickly, easily, and unremarked.
Meanwhile, there’s the Sochi Olympics, government grants for science research, and all sorts of other opportunities for graft, thievery, corruption, and mayhem. There’s also a mysterious institution caring for a lot of very childlike adults. It’s fantastical, funny, and the blend of fact and fiction is almost too painful.
I enjoyed Fardwor, Russia! It is a short book, something you could gobble up in one sitting. It’s a very informal book, with an occasional authorial interruption. There’s also the usual conspiracy of great inventions stifled in order to protect the status quo or a particular industry. That is a well-traveled trope in American literature, with the auto industry the usual bad guy suppressing cars that run on water, get 99 miles to the gallon, or as in real life, blocking the production of the safer, more efficient, Tucker Torpedo.
This is a satire, so don’t expect complex characters or profound character development. Man y of the characters are stand-ins for real people or segments of society. There is a madcap speed to events. The book moves quickly, never pausing for breath…and that works because if you stopped to think to long, your suspension of disbelief would fail. Fardwor, Russia! creates an impression of Russia. It does not paint a picture or take a photograph. It conveys the emotional damage of living in a country where the only thing you can count on is that everything, and nearly everyone, is corrupt.
- Fardwor, Russia! at Restless Books
- Oleg Kashin at The Other Russia
- Oleg Kashin at The Guardian
- Oleg Kashin Open Letter to Putin
- Oleg Kashin author site (Russian)