Pelevin, Viktor Olegovich

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(b. 1962), novelist and short-story writer.

Born in Moscow to a military family, Viktor Olegovich Pelevin received his education at the Moscow Energy Institute and the Gorky Institute of World Literature (Moscow). Praised and panned by critics ever since his work first gained public recognition during the early 1990s, Pelevin has been a controversial figure in the Russian literary establishment. Nonetheless, he is one of the most important figures in the world of post-Soviet letters. Pelevin is virtually the only serious writer in contemporary Russia to gain a wide readership, appealing in particular to the burgeoning youth counterculture.

Pelevin's works can be classified broadly as satire, but the author's concerns are more cultural and metaphysical than political. His first short novel, Omon Ra (1992), tells the story of a young man who dreams of being a cosmonaut, only to discover that the entire Soviet space program is a government-perpetrated fraud masking the country's inability to launch a single rocket. Pelevin's second novel, The Life of Insects (1993), reveals the preoccupation with Eastern mysticism and hallucinogenic drugs that characterize both his subsequent novels and many of the short stories collected in The Blue Lantern (1991) and The Yellow Arrow (1998). His 1996 novel Buddha's Little Finger combines an absurdist approach to Soviet cultural heroes with an equally ironic satire of Western popular culture (Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a brief appearance). In 1999 he published Babylon, which reflects his ongoing fascination with computer culture and virtual reality. Babylon is populated both by real human beings and digitally constructed simulacra, and the resemblance between the two is enhanced by Pelevin's longstanding rejection of the traditions of Russian psychological realism.

See also: science fiction; socialist realism


Dalton-Brown, Sally. (1997). "Ludic Nonchalance or Ludicrous Despair? Viktor Pelevin and Russian Postmodernist Prose." Slavonic and East European Review 75(2):216233.

Genis, Alexander. (1999). "Borders and Metamorphoses: Viktor Pelevin in the Context of Post-Soviet Literature." In Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture, eds. Mikhail Epstein, Alexander Genis, and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. New York: Berghan.

Eliot Borenstein