Oleg Kashin’s debut novel ‘Fardwor, Russia’ takes its reader on a surreal journey through the political landscape of Russia’s seedy underbelly. Drawing on his experience as an award-winning journalist and polemicist, Kashin skilfully blends fact and fiction, shining a light on some of the most sinister and hypocritical workings of the modern Russian state.
Kashin has woven a masterful fabric of pastiche and parody in his first attempt at fiction, which is decidedly postmodern in style. It seems to offer itself at first as an omniscient account of the story of a young scientist and his wife until distinctive and unreliable first-person intrusions begin to disrupt the narrative and countless new characters surface from the text before being killed off only pages later. It has the definite feel of a satirical rendition of Russian epic with a diverse set of questionably amoral characters set against an imagined revolution of agricultural science.
The tale centres around Karpov, a young scientist who has convinced his wife to leave Moscow with him so that he can work on an enigmatic research project. His ‘invention’ is later revealed to be a groundbreaking growth serum, which he believes will solve Russia’s national food shortage once he is able to breed giant livestock.
The legacy of agricultural science fiction in contemporary Russian literature is relatively limited historically, but currently widening in scope. Vladminir Makanin, for example, introduced the idea of mass-producing a suspicious ‘synthetic meat’ in his early post-Soviet novella ‘The Long Road Ahead’, written and published along with ‘Escape Hatch’ in the 1990s.
Kashin’s exploration of surrealism and allegory in an alternative ‘scientific present’ is particularly evocative of the world of Makanin, but done perhaps with more audacity. Where Makanin’s tales usually supply some sort of political comment or an amoral twist, Kashin’s novel supplies deliberately transparent caricatures of figures in the Kremlin clique and tracks the various corrupt ways that they mishandle and abuse Karpov’s growth serum for their own personal and political gain.
At times both laugh-out-loud funny and darkly sinister, the novel almost appears to foreshadow Kashin’s own fate. Only two months after his work on ‘Fardwor, Russia’ was completed, Kashin was attacked in November 2010 by a group of enigmatic security guards and hospitalised for severe injuries. It was only five years later in 2015 that Kashin was able to identify his attackers (with no help from official investigators) as security guards under the employment of Alexander Gorbunov and Andrei Turchak, a sitting governor who Kashin had insulted in a sidelined blog comment. Turchak even responded to the comment at the time, publicly threatening Kashin with only ‘twenty-four hours to apologize.’ It is ironic that the keen detail that Kashin affords to bribery, blackmail, and self-entitlement in his novel is exactly what he ultimately fell prey to only weeks later.
Reversing the progressive slogan ‘Forward, Russia’ to ‘Fardwor, Russia’ becomes the perfect characterisation of the notion that Russian scientific advancements, originally conceived for social good, are - like everything else - warped and distorted for political gain in the hands of a totalitarian regime. What was conceived as progressive becomes regressive. Science takes one step forward and humankind takes two steps back.
As Kashin says in his own novel: “Big systems always have logistical problems.”
Written on 9th December 2016 by Abbie.
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