Viktor Pelevin, Omon Ra

Viktor Pelevin (or Victor, in his English translations) was born in 1962, so grew up during the period of Stagnation. He attended aviation college in Moscow but has been a full-time writer since 1991. He is the first post-modern writer on our syllabus, and you'll see difference, though Omon Ra presents its questions about reality in a pretty realistic style. In her article about Pelevin in Neil Cornwell, ed., Reference Guide to Russian Literature (1998), Sally Dalton-Brown notes that his work is "characterized by fragmentation, conscious artificiality (i.e. the construction of 'hyperrealities'), and game-playing." Interesting to note that one of his stories is entitled "The Ninth Dream of Vera Pavlovna" - referring back to Chernyshevsky. Omon Ra was written in 1992, making it one of his earlier works; before 1991 he was better known as a writer of short stories. He often chooses to write science fiction, and you'll see the references to earlier (Soviet) SF in this book; he also moves into adjacent genres (fantasy, etc). He has written 14 novels or novellas, plus lots of essays. One short novel has the title "Prince StatePlan" (Принц Госплан), so this is not the only place where a character is named for a piece of Soviet realia - a name that no one would ever give a child.

OMON (Отряд милиции особого назначения) is the acronym for a branch of the Russian police - "Special Purpose Police Unit." This branch of the police was founded in 1988, making the name Omon an anachronism for someone who would be old enough to participate in the Soviet space program. Various units of the OMON were involved in violent incidents connected with the coming-apart of the Soviet Union, giving the name a resonance somewhat like that of the Cossacks, once upon a time. (His brother OVIR was named for the Office of Visas and Registration - thanks to foreign words the acronym is the same in English and Russian.)

Questions for reading:

  1. Just for fun: what are the references to other works we have read? (On p. 122, we see that Omon himself reads SF.)
  2. Omon's last name is a "talking name" too: Krivomazov comes from kriv- 'crooked' or 'wrong' and maz- 'daub, smear' - but it also recalls that famous literary last name, Karamazov. Karamazov means "black face" (Turkic roots, but with well enough recognized meaning that Mme Khokhlakova refers to one of the Brothers as "Chernomazov," with the Russian root for "black"). What do you read in these resemblances?
  3. What light might our narrator's summary of the myth of Ra orbiting, or rather traveling around the earth, cast on this vision of a space voyage?
  4. Do you know the story of Alexei Maresiev (1916-2001), a Soviet WWII pilot who lots the lower part of both legs after a crash landing and spent a year doign painful exercises so he could fly with his prostheses. Boris Polevoi wrote a novel based on his story (changing the hero's name to Meresiev), The Story of a Real Man (Повесть о настоящем человеке), and it was the basis of a movie and then of an opera with a score by Prokofiev.
  5. What is the role of drugs in this story?
  6. What do you make of the "reincarnation check" that Omon and his friend Mitiok (diminutive for Dmitry) have to undergo?
  7. How does the style compare to other works we've read? ((Andrew Bromfeld does a very nice job with the translation!)
  8. What about this book tells you that it is a post-Soviet work?
  9. How do the various other nationalities appear? - American, Japanese...
  10. How do you react to the ending?
  11. Is this really science fiction?