The Anonymous Novel

The Anonymous Novel

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THE ANONYMOUS NOVEL: SENSING THE FUTURE TORMENTS
by Alessandro Barbero
translated by Allan Cameron

Pages: 560
ISBN: 978-1-908251-62-6
Dimensions: 210 x 140 x 34 mm
Publication: 9 March 2016
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A middle-aged judge driven by curiosity and the intellectual challenge of his work, a nervous and neurotic young historian willing to run all manner of risks to uncover the state crimes of the forties, a nerdy, well-educated and good-natured young journalist motivated principally by the desire to enjoy life and not dwell on the miseries of the past, a KGB general once responsible for some of the purges and now an Islamist radical, an inept, capricious and delightfully self-aware Jewish actor, and an Islamic cleric loyal to the Soviet Union, whose murder has so many repercussions, all these carefully constructed characters could be found in any society but Alessandro Barbero has brought them to life in one of the most elusive, unstable and neglected historical realities: Gorbachev’s Russia. And this proves to be fertile ground for Barbero, one that generates endless themes and the opportunity to express his love for Russian literature and culture. Barbero used his skills as a historian to study the reality of that society through its newspapers and journals, and his skills as a novelist to weave a complex plot — a tale of two cities: Moscow and Baku. And throughout, the narrative voice – perhaps the greatest protagonist of them all — represents not the author’s views but those of the Russian public as they emerged from one dismal reality and hurtled unknowingly towards another.

First there is the picture of a society on the cusp of unnerving change, one in which it has become possible to say what previously could scarcely even be thought. Then there is the richness of the detail. … Here rooms, journeys, weather, clothes, meals, landscape, tastes, smells, trains, the Moscow underground, the mustiness of archives are all vividly presented. The reader inhabits the world the author has conjured up. Finally, and best of all, there is the talk. Russians are great talkers and the novel floats on a sea of wonderfully varied, expressive and tremendous speech. The characters reveal themselves in their words, spoken or merely thought. (For in a good novel thought is a form of speech when presented dramatically, as it is here.)

Reviews

“The first surprise is that this novel was written by an Italian, since it deals so deftly with Russian history from the inside. ... He even writes in a bright and breezy satirical style, brilliantly conveyed by Allan Cameron in his translation, that leads the reader to believe that some Russian Master had been leaning over his shoulder, guiding his hand.” The Herald

“This is an astonishing novel... [Barbero's] book is first a quite remarkable piece of impersonation. He is Italian, his novel Russian, set during the Gorbachev years when Soviet certainties were crumbling and change and anxiety were in the air. ... the plot, which the reader follows through a dense and intricately designed maze ... is as circuitous and often puzzling as any in a Le Carré novel. (And Le Carré addicts will love this one too.) Yet, what is a plot for, as Scott remarked, 'but to bring in fine things?', and there are fine things in spades." The Scotsman

“This is a literary miracle — unique, witty and gripping. It reads like Bulgakov’s prose somewhat modernised or even a careful and sensitive translation of one of the great Russian classics. It is stunningly authentic, and I cannot believe that the author and translator are NOT Russian... A book to savour and consume slowly...” — Vitali Vitaliev

“It is a deeply rewarding pleasure to be lost in this novel.” — The Sunday Herald

“Barbero uses the diabolic skills of an erudite and professional narrator to seek out massacres of the distant and recent past. The Anonymous Novel concerns the past-that-never-passes (whether Tsarist or Stalinist) and the future that in 1988 was impending and has now arrived.” — Il Giornale

“As in a vast Russian river, thousands of rivulets and currents intersect with each other in Barbero’s novel, which provides us with an amazing snapshot of the reality of yesterday and today with all the endless nuances, and holds our attention with the events of a police investigation.” — L’Indice 

The Anonymous Novel: Sensing the Future Torments ... is a vivid novel about Russians coping with the transition from communism to capitalism and combines echoes of Bulgakov with elements of a thriller. Strangely it has been written by a successful medieval historian.” — Eric Hobsbawm, The Observer