We accommodated in a Berlin café. I’m complete excited: It’s not every day that one gets to account a archetypal biographer who’s still living. Vladimir Sorokin is advised a colonnade of postmodernism in Russian literature. For two decades his name has been one of the aboriginal that comes up in acknowledgment to the question, “What is a Russian literature?” The appellation “classicist” is additionally frequently evoked by reviewers and others who address about him. A virtuoso juggler of the language, he’s additionally accomplished at action amidst genres, registers and styles. His works accept been translated into dozens of languages, he was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize for outstanding contributions to Russian literature, and has been a applicant for both the Russian Booker Prize (twice) and the Man Booker International Prize.
In a assertive sense, however, Sorokin’s assignment is additionally the complete adverse of classical Russian literature, with which he conducts a alive chat in best of his books. His fiction is abundantly spiced with begrimed and barnyard terms, which until afresh were an about complete anathema in Russian literature, forth with naturalistic descriptions of and busy scenes of aliment and eating. He has accounting abundant descriptions of defecation and of bistro of excrement, as able-bodied as scenes of atrocity that amplitude the reader’s adeptness to the extreme. One of his aboriginal novels, “Four Stout Hearts” (1991), contains a description of “brain fucking,” in the accurate sense. It’s an absurdist work, a complete album of barbarous violence, abduction and the bizarre. In his latest work, “Manaraga,” angel abstract of abstract are set afire in adjustment to buzz gourmet food.
In the advance of his connected career, Sorokin, 63, has been accused of disseminating chicanery (in the aboriginal 2000s a bent analysis was launched adjoin him at the action of Walking Together, an alignment of pro-Kremlin adolescent people, but it was concluded due to “lack of guilt”) and of propagandizing cannibalism (two years ago, activists “against extremism” accustomed that the amends of his adventure “Nastia” be investigated). His books were ablaze bottomward a behemothic toilet in a affectionate commemoration (also organized by Walking Together).
Sorokin started as a painter and illustrator in the 1970s, afore switching to writing. Back the alpha of the 1980s he has arise 11 novels, a cardinal of them translated into English. A few years ago, he went aback to painting, and aftermost year had his aboriginal abandoned exhibition. Betwixt and between, Sorokin has accounting plays and blur scripts, acceptable his fame. He alike authored the libretto of a postmodern opera performed by the Bolshoi Theater. Members of assembly objected to the opera actuality staged by the Bolshoi, because of Sorokin’s attainable persona and his use of abnormal accent (though in this case, there were no blame or vulgarities). At aboriginal they accustomed that the assembly be canceled altogether, afresh that it be confused to a altered stage, but to no avail.
Baking a jailbait
There’s a abundant ambit amidst the scandal-ridden angel of Sorokin the columnist and Sorokin the person. He has been appropriately affiliated for abounding years, is the ancestor of accompanying girls and has a grandson who lives in the United States. He’s accustomed to be a affable aficionado, and he is an affected chiffonier with a affection for appearance that matches his diffuse beard and tall, ample body. He arrives in the café cutting jeans and a red T-shirt with a printed sticker depicting a rose, a atramentous and a skull. He orders Apfelschorle (apple abstract with soda water) and turns bottomward my advancement that he eat article as well. Sorokin stutters, and his apathetic accent creates the consequence that he’s consistently dark for words.
As befits the attitude of abundant Russian literature, Sorokin lives in Berlin in the Charlottenburg division – a axial breadth in the burghal for Russian expatriates during the aboriginal bisected of the 20th aeon (and finer today, too) – where, amidst others, artist Marina Tsvetaeva and Vladimir Nabokov lived in exile. Sorokin shrugs off the assured allegory with his illustrious forebears. He does not ascertain himself as an emigré, because he didn’t broil his bridges – “and I don’t intend to do so of my own initiative,” he adds. He spends about bisected of anniversary year in Russia, in the apple of Vnukovo, a Moscow.
“I don’t acknowledgment to Moscow but to its surroundings, area I was born,” he says. “I anticipate that if not for that place, I would rarely appointment Moscow. It’s burghal space… it’s adamantine to alarm it a city; it’s added of a huge terminal. Moscow itself was never a home for me. In the 1970s, you could still acquisition alleys to go walking in, but now they’re absolutely different. They accept chic, but there’s no amore in them.”
As for Berlin, whose western area he visited for the aboriginal time in 1988, a year afore the abatement of the bank and back it was still attenuate for Soviet citizens to canyon through the Iron Curtain, he says, “It’s affable to alive here. This burghal doesn’t force annihilation on you, doesn’t appetite annihilation from you, and I acknowledge that.”
I’m affair with Sorokin to mark the advertisement of his additional book in Hebrew translation. The Hebrew adaptation of the dystopian atypical “Day of the Oprichnik” (published in its aboriginal Russian in 2006, and in English bristles years later) was arise in 2010. The new book, “Horse Soup,” consists of four belief from the 13 that appeared originally in 2001 in the short-story accumulating “The Feast,” adherent absolutely to food.
The stories, calmly translated into Hebrew by Polina Brukman, who additionally alleged them, aggregate a affectionate of exhibition of styles and genres that Sorokin juggles. The appellation story, for example, has a beeline artifice absorption about a camp acceding amidst a adolescent woman and a youth, in which the macho will watch the changeable bistro as he grunts, groans and emits awe-inspiring cries. “Nastia,” accounting in the spirit of backward 19th-early 20th-century Russian literature, describes a commemoration in which a babe is broiled and eaten on her 16th altogether by her parents and their accompany – archetypal assembly of the Russian intelligentsia. (About two years ago, the administrator Konstantin Bogomolov arise that he was starting to assignment on a blur adaptation of the story, arch to requests to the badge to ban the apportionment of the story.)
“My Meal” combines an close address of the narrator (who is alleged “Vladimir Sorokin”) with abundant affidavit of the foods he devours a few canicule afterwards New Year’s, and bits of his conversations, thoughts and physiological functions. And “Festive Repast” is abundantly a accumulation of recipes for such dishes as “toothbrush soufflé” and “stuffed beanbag bizarre with dust from the summer house.” So it was alone accustomed for our chat to alpha with the accountable of food.
It’s credible that your books are accounting by a actuality who loves to eat and knows how to eat, but the aliment additionally seems to agitate abounding added feelings, one of which is guilt.
“The accuracy is that I hadn’t anticipation of that. But it’s like in one of the James Bond movies. They’re on a alternation and his adherent says to him, ‘How’s the roast?’ And he says, ‘Fine, but I benevolence the sheep.’ [The complete quote, from the 2006 “Casino Royale”: “‘How was your lamb?’ ‘Skewered. One sympathizes.’”] Obviously the answerability would be greater if the restaurants were anchored in abattoirs. That could accept been powerful, but alike afresh bodies would go on eating.”
Do you eat meat?
“I try to eat beneath meat. There was a aeon in which my wife and I didn’t eat meat for four years, but afresh we started again. I don’t alike bethink what happened. Aliment is about a. In Orthodox Christianity, there’s a sin alleged ‘madness of the throat.’ It’s not appetence [one of the seven baleful sins], but absolutely demography amusement in food. So I sin in that.”
You know, it’s generally said that amidst the adolescent generation, aliment has become a 18-carat rite and that abounding adopt aliment to .
“The accuracy is, that’s terrible. I anticipate these two enjoyments are complementary. I don’t see antagonism amidst them.”
Food can be a acting for in assertive situations. I don’t apperceive if the adverse is additionally true.
“It’s never happened to me.”
It about happens in the adventure “Horse Soup.”
“It’s not absolutely , added the ritual. But if to allege in accustomed terms, I saw a animation in which two bodies are accepting and anniversary of them is staring at his gadget. So it’s attainable that really… In the accomplished 10 years, restaurant adeptness has developed a pretense to aestheticism. The array is so great, and people’s demands are so high, that it absolutely adeptness be according in adeptness to a. But I am allegedly a complete ancient person.”
Sorokin denies accepting carefully alleged to go acutely into the accountable of food, and defecation (“True conception happens unconsciously,” he says), but admits that until not connected ago there were two lacunae in literature: and food.
“It’s advised the low concrete sphere,” he observes. “It’s accustomed that to call it in detail is bad taste. We don’t know, and never will know, what Nastasia Filippovna [in Dostoevsky’s “Idiot”] ate, or the aspect in which she surrendered to Rogozhin. The aforementioned goes for Natasha Rostova [in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”]. At the aforementioned time, Tolstoy and Turgenev affected on aliment lightly. In ‘Anna Karenina,’ there’s a description of Stiva Oblonsky and Levin bistro oysters and basis soup, as Stiva calls it. But those who dealt with it (at length) were the French – Rabelais, de Sade and afterwards Balzac. For them the low concrete apple affiliated with the aerial bookish and affecting sphere. And with the Russians, it is about a abstract of aerial ideas. What food? What ?”
And afterward, in the Soviet Union, it was blocked alike more.
“Taboo, complete taboo. It absorbed me to move into that realm, which hadn’t yet been depicted, alongside added realms, such as violence. In short, as one of Chekhov’s protagonists said: Man cannot abide afterwards nourishment.”
Sorokin’s latest novel, “Manaraga,” which was arise in Russia aftermost year and will arise in Hebrew adaptation in 2019, is allotment of the dystopian angel he began amalgam in “Day of the Oprichnik” and connected developing in his next-to-last work, “Telluria.” The adventure unfolds in post-World War III Europe, afterwards Christendom has auspiciously affected Muslim invaders but at a abrupt price: States bankrupt afar afresh into kingdoms, and the Continent has sunk into a “New Middle Ages.” Monarchist or feudal regimes abide adjoin a accomplishments of abstruse abundance of the advice post-revolution. Acute claimed ticks, which accept connected back replaced smartphones, are built-in anon into the academician and amend their owners with all the advice they charge at any accustomed moment and are amenable for acclimation their mood.
The advocate is a chef who engages in a assisting but alarming occupation: assay gourmet foods over a blaze fed by attenuate and actual editions of archetypal books. The appearance of affable isn’t acknowledged and entails adventuresome thefts from museums in which cardboard books are stored. But for Sorokin, every comestible appointment with audience who like book’n’grill isn’t alone an befalling to adore a absolute description of the technology of assay and book afire in which the advocate is skilled. It’s additionally an advantage to present to readers his acclaimed talent: ablution fireworks in altered arcane styles, from Babel to Bulgakov.
Does humanity’s arising alteration from cardboard books to account in agenda formats anguish Sorokin? Not really. Cardboard books, he predicts, will become an big-ticket awakening article – “handmade work,” like big-ticket shoes that are bogus in old styles today.
“I anticipate that it’s not about the cardboard books, but about the shrinking of the amplitude of literature. Abstract no best plays the role it did 50 years ago. As a writer,” Sorokin explains, “I’m apologetic that our era is one of audacious journalists and barnyard columnists. They’re able of cerebration three moves ahead, admitting a adept can anticipate 20 moves ahead. That’s complete bright in the affection of the game. Abstract is, afterwards all, a aerial anatomy of game. I’m not apologetic about the cardboard that’s burnt, but about the application arcane amplitude and the stripping bottomward of the population.”
At the aforementioned time, he himself isn’t abashed of accident readers and is additionally not afraid about the approaching of the Russian classics, of which he refuses to let go in his own works: “The archetypal authors are read, and Russian abstract is a angel label. I was in Mexico, in Guadalajara. There’s a baby aerodrome there, I was cat-and-mouse for a affiliation to a bigger city, and in a baby lounge there, amidst newspapers, magazines and detective novels, I aback see a Russian set: ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ It’s like Russian vodka. The characterization already exists, and it adeptness possibly be the alone affair that will abide of Russia.”
Recently, afterwards abounding years in which government-sponsored critics and advocates of accuracy hurled allegations at Sorokin for his abstract and awkward activity with low capacity and his absurdist style, afterward the advertisement of “Manaraga,” he was accused of accepting become traditionalist himself.
The columnist and arcane analyzer Lev Danilkin wrote that Sorokin, in his afterwards books, has mutated from actuality a biographer “who is not to be appeased,” to one “with whom acceding can be reached.” According to Danilkin, “The catechism of the books is not an artful one but a political one.” He went on to abuse Sorokin for attention too carefully the acceptable arcane assize and of actuality afraid to acquaint into it the “infected” post-Soviet literature.
Sorokin alongside admits guilt. As I’m about to ask him about the aberration amidst aliment as a autonomous branch and hierarchical abstract or culture, he says anon that there are elitist foods, too – those that are not attainable to every palate, and not alone because of the price. “Have you been to the restaurant that serves atomic food? You get served a few stones, which attending like marble. You allotment them and ascertain that they are broiled potatoes. I can brainstorm a man-in-the-street booth saying, ‘Why me? It’s big-ticket and additionally not bright why. Better to broil potatoes and that’s it.’ So that there is a affinity amidst aliment and literature.”
Russian to agony
Some of Sorokin’s books accommodate absolutely political assertions, but in adverse to added arch a Russian authors, such as Boris Akunin or Zakhar Prilepin, and admitting the angry action to his assignment on the allotment of the government’s advocates – he has never taken an alive allotment in the political chat in the country and has never been spotted at a beef demonstration. In an all-encompassing television account six years ago, he demonstratively refrained from demography a angle or from anecdotic with the advanced armament in Russia. I ask him why, and whether he has afflicted his mind.
“I assumption I don’t accept in Russian democracy.”
So it’s a attitude in the appearance of “Why go to vote – in any case we’ll get the aforementioned result?”
“If it were attainable to go to a affirmation and change the academician of the post-Soviet individual, I would go, of course. But accuracy don’t change so fast. And for myself, I don’t see the point.”
That’s absolutely a pretense: Either the academician of the Soviet alone is changed, or nothing.
“Yes, in this faculty I am a Russian actuality to the point of desperation. But if you appetite to allocution about opinions, I accept them. I abutment European democracy, I am adjoin tyranny. I accept no accord at all for the Soviet past, and I additionally feel complete little accord for Russia’s administrative past.”
As a actuality who gives announcement to his views, do you feel the pressures of the government, alike if you don’t go to the boondocks square?
“In the meantime, they don’t bother me. I acquire my aliment with the diaphoresis of my brow. Writers are like deer who are nourished by the affirmation they appear upon.”
But there are political-ethical-moral expectations of writers in accustomed and of Russian writers in particular, right?
“Yes, but I try to aish them aural myself. Because added than one bearing has gotten old amidst all these despair-ridden Russian discussions, captivated in the kitchen over vodka. Better to appoint in applied work.”
A alternate affair in Sorokin’s bulk is the affair of the nation. In best of his above novels, as in some of his stories, the Jewish affair additionally crops up. In “Day of the Oprichnik” a few paragraphs are adherent to Jews, including attenuate badinage of buried and apparent Russian anti-Semitism. Finally, the clairvoyant is told, the arbiter took “all the acute Jews” beneath his wing, while the impaired ones “scattered.” A Jewish affair is arresting in “Managra,” in allotment through a aberrant Jewish ancestors that is canoeing in mid-ocean aboard a address that can’t acknowledgment to acreage because of the actionable accomplishments of the old “grandfather.”
The Jewish accountable is accessory in your work, but appears regularly. And overall, it’s bright that you are not aloof to issues of nationality. Why?
“I’m like those insects that lay eggs in rotten meat. Afterwards the larvae eat that putrid meat. I’m absorbed in the rotten places in the culture, in the society, area there is a caliginosity of concepts that hasn’t been exposed. It interests me to assignment with a anathema accountable or repressed affectionate fears, aggregate mistakes. For example, I wrote a comedy that dealt with Russian-Jewish-German complexes, alleged ‘Hochzeitsreise’ [“The Honeymoon”], which was staged actuality in Berlin in the Volksbuhne [People’s Theater]. It’s about a adulation adventure amidst the emigrée Masha Rubinshtein and Gunther von Nebeldorf, whose ancestor was in the SS and whose mother was in the KGB.”
Your latest belief appearance that you are anxious about Islam.
“Like every European, I am anxious about aitionist Islam. It possesses an advancing agent in affiliation to European civilization, and that’s a given.”
Maybe it’s a fact. But ISIS was defeated and the Taliban aren’t absolutely in sight. What Europeans see is the refugees and the immigrants who appear to Berlin and to added cities. In your work, the Muslim aggression and the war in which Christendom ultimately triumphs, but at a amazing price, are a cogent allotment of the dystopia.
“I anticipate that both ‘Managara’ and ‘Telluria’ are added about the European fears of Islam. That’s what those books are about.”
But as a actuality alive in Berlin, one of the world’s best catholic cities, do you feel that fear? Do you faculty any array of threat? Or is it all theoretical?
“I can say that our angel is changing, in allotment because of the Muslim migrants. No one will altercation that. That worries me, of course.”
What absolutely worries you?
“The actuality that Europe is alteration and there is added anarchy actuality and beneath adeptness to adumbrate the future.”
Those are generalities. I’d like to accept what it is, precisely.
“I accept annihilation adjoin the refugees one sees in the streets. The botheration is that at any moment one of them can become a terrorist.”
In one of his accomplished interviews, Sorokin said that he doesn’t like “realists who are active with anecdotic themselves.” He counterpoised them to writers who actualize new worlds imaginatively.
You associate yourself with writers who adjure up worlds through fantasies, but in works by added astute writers, like Jonathan Franzen and Elena Ferrante, there is a animal amore that is defective in your books.
“All right, I’m sorry. What abroad can one say here? Nabokov would say, ‘I am a arctic birthmark in cellophane.’ [The artist Bella Akhmadulina, who met Nabokov three months afore he died, quoted him as apropos to his Russian – the Russian of a casual who had lived for abounding years alfresco Russia – as a “frozen strawberry.”] Amore in abstract – I anticipate that’s article complete subjective. For me warmth, aboriginal of all, is the talent. Rabelais or Joyce or Kafka – that’s boiling, not aloof warm. I’m not a in this catechism of area there is amore and area it’s not. I address algid things.
“But abstract in the end is belletrist on paper. The amore is – actuality [he touches my hand]. And all the blow is paper; our concepts about what amore is.”
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