Pelevin, Victor 1962–
Pelevin, Victor 1962–
(Viktor Olegovich Pelevin)
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1962, in Russia; son of Oleg and Zina Pelevin. Education: Attended Moscow Institute of Power Engineering and Moscow Institute of Literature.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Aragi Agency, 143 W. 27th St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Russian literary prizes, including Russian Booker short story prize for "The Blue Lantern," 1993, and "The Yellow Arrow," 1994.
Omon Ra (novel), Tekst (Moscow, Russia), 1992, translated by Andrew Bromfield (printed with "The Yellow Arrow"; also see below), Harbord (London, England), 1994, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
The Yellow Arrow (stories), translated by Andrew Bromfield, New Directions (New York, NY), 1996.
The Life of Insects (novel), translated by Andrew Bromfield, Harbord (London, England), 1996, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
Chapaev i Pustota, Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 1996, translated by Andrew Bromfield as The Clay Machine Gun, Harbord (London, England), 1999, and Buddha's Little Finger, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
The Blue Lantern and Other Stories, translated by Andrew Bromfield, New Directions (New York, NY), 1997.
A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories, translated by Andrew Bromfield, New Directions (New York, NY), 1998.
Generation "P," Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 1999, translated by Andrew Bromfield as Babylon, Faber (London, England), 2000, and Homo Zapiens, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Four by Pelevin (stories), translated by Andrew Bromfield, New Directions (New York, NY), 2001.
Shlem uzhasa: Kreatiff o Tesee i Minotavre, Otkrytye mir (Moscow, Russia), 2005, published in English as The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.
Also author of additional works published in Russia.
SIDELIGHTS: Victor Pelevin quickly emerged in the mid-1990s as a significant new voice in Russian literature. His work soon found translation into English, and he also gained recognition in the West. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, David Herd noted that the novelist is "widely hailed as one of the best young writers of post-glasnost Russia." A Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized Pelevin as "young, popular, and considered very hip." Although nearly all of Pelevin's work is rooted in satire and absurdism, dealing with fantastical situations rather than realistic ones, at the same time his novels and stories often contain elements that can be traced back to some of the giants of Russian literature, including Gogol and Pasternak.
Pelevin's first novel, Omon Ra, operates on the assumption that the successes of the Soviet space program with robotic spacecraft, such as Sputnik, were a complete deception. He posits that there were actually pilots on suicide missions hidden in the crafts and operating the controls.
"In The Blue Lantern and Other Stories," stated Ken Kalfus in the New York Times Book Review, "Pelevin continues to gnaw at our sense of conventional reality." The fantastical situations portrayed in this collection serve as metaphors for economic and political uncertainties that individual Russians confronted, mostly during the glasnost era that signaled the downfall of Communism. In one story, two secret service agents decide to have sex-change operations so they can earn more money as prostitutes. In another, women become so desperate to leave the country they are willing to marry the resurrections of foreign soldiers who were killed on Russian soil. In "Hermit and Six-Toes," two chickens engage in a lengthy philosophical dialogue on life, love, death, and the nature of reality. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that the author's "raw, bold voice makes a welcome addition."
Pelevin's second novel, The Life of Insects, is set a Black Sea resort inhabited by insect characters with human personalities. Reviewing the collection for Library Journal, M. Anna Falbo observed, "Vivid description, a sure sense of irony, and inventive prose" together makes for a fitting parody reflecting modern Russia. The plot centers around two Russian mosquitoes trying to work out a business deal with an American mosquito. Other characters include a queen ant who seeks a storybook romance but must settle for marriage to a domineering army-ant major, two moths who become fireflies in their pursuit of truth, and a cicada who is viewed as a cockroach after he grows a moustache. Frank Caso of Booklist wrote that "Pelevin counters years of stultifying socialist realism with a fabulous tale."
In the title story of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia, a group of villagers welcome their transformation to werewolves, a state in which their senses are greatly magnified and they experience a certainty regarding the purpose and direction of their lives. Other stories in the book include "The Ontology of Childhood," which draws a parallel between life in a Soviet prison and a harsh childhood existence, and "Vera Pavlova's Ninth Dream," in which the Russian transition from Communism to capitalism is seen exclusively through the eyes of an attendant in a public restroom. Reviewing the collection for the New York Times Book Review, Richard Lourie observed that the author is the "freshest voice to emerge from the rubble of Soviet Russia."
In 2000, Pelevin published his novel Buddha's Little Finger in the United States. The novel tells the story of one main character, Pyotr Voyd, during two different time periods. The first Pyotr Voyd is a Russian poet who becomes a cavalry commander during the 1919 revolution. The second Pyotr Voyd lives in present-day Moscow and is being treated in a mental hospital for delusions of living the first Pyotr Voyd's life. His doctor believes these delusions are related to Pyotr's refusal to accept the new way of life in Russia. Critics responded positively to the novel, some lauding the pure originality of the work. Buddha's Little Finger is "wildly fantastic and explicitly political," wrote Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor Paul Maliszewski. Others praised the author for his ability to take a complex story structure and make it accessible and fresh. Pelevin's "crisply written novel jumps back and forth without ever feeling chaotic," observed Eric Miles Williamson in the Southern Review.
Pelevin followed up Buddha's Little Finger with the novel Homo Zapiens. Also set in Russia, the novel's main character, Tatarsky, has been caught up in the country's dramatic shift to capitalism. Once a poet, Tatarsky is working at a kiosk when he discovers a love for advertising. Critics again lauded the author for his work on the novel, noting the story's sharp wit and strong social commentary. "This sobering satire belongs in all literary and world literature collections," wrote Barbara Hoffert in a review for the Library Journal. Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor Michael Pinker had a similar assessment of the novel. Pelevin's story "reveals the meaning of our overcharged existence," he noted.
In 2006, Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur first appeared in English. This work deviates from the usual novel platform in that it is a reinterpretation of a Greek myth, that of Theseus and Ariadne, who band together to kill a Minotaur who lives in a labyrinth. Instead of taking place in ancient Greece, Pelevin's story happens in the present, with the characters caught in a labyrinth of sorts that functions as an online chatroom. The participants do not know each other but many are in search of similar things, like love. Their fear is the "helmet of horror," a machine that controls their fate. For some reviewers, the chatroom format of dialogue was somewhat jarring and distracting from the plot of the book. "It is a very bare kind of conversation," wrote John Mullan in a review for the New Statesman. But others enjoyed Pelevin's interpretation of Greek mythology, finding it an apt update for today's readers. The Helmet of Horror is a "brilliant new telling of the myth," observed one Publishers Weekly contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1998, Frank Caso, review of The Life of Insects, p. 983.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2006, review of The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, p. 202.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, M. Anna Falbo, review of The Life of Insects, p. 112; April 1, 2002, Barbara Hoffert, review of Homo Zapiens, p. 142.
New Statesman, March 20, 2006, John Mullan, review of The Helmet of Horror, p. 56.
New York Times Book Review, December 7, 1997, Ken Kulfus, The Blue Lantern and Other Stories, p. 90; January 3, 1999, Richard Lourie, review of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, September 1, 1997, review of The Blue Lantern and Other Stories, p. 94; December 22, 1997, review of The Life of Insects, p. 36; September 28, 1998, review of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories, p. 70; February 20, 2006, review of The Helmet of Horror, p. 151.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2000, Paul Maliszewski, review of Buddha's Little Finger, p. 138; fall, 2002, Michael Pinker, review of Homo Zapiens, p. 144.
Russian Life, November-December, 2004, Galina Yuzefovich, "Genius Temporis: Victor Pelevin," p. 40.
Southern Review, winter, 2001, Eric Miles Williamson, review of Buddha's Little Finger, p. 174.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), May 21, 1999, David Herd, review of The Clay Machine Gun, p. 23.