Hall of the Singing Caryatids

I’ve got a review of Victor Pelevin’s The Hall of the Singing Caryatids (publishing this week from New Directions) coming up at The National, but I wanted to put in a little kind word for the book right here. It’s a wonderful little novella, a book that only grew in my estimation a I re-read it a couple of times for the review.

I’m certainly not an expert on contemporary Russian lit, but of the Russians who have made their way to English, I Pelevin is probably my favorite. He seems to actually do all of those things that people like to praise Vladimir Sorokin for (a vastly overrated author, in my opinion). Pelevin is one of those satirists who knows how to get very creative when flinging darts at his targets (Sorokin, on the other hand, seems to only know how to stick outrageous scenes in his books). But he doesn’t just stop at satire: he turns these satirical turns into very robust metaphors, and then he interrelates them over the course of a book until you’re left with a very complex, very readable story. He creates art in the sense that Maurice Merleau-Ponty defined it: “A work of art provides us with symbols whose meaning we shall never finish developing.”

New Directions published this book in their “Pearls” series of short, novella-length works, but it actually comes from a book of five novellas titled P5 (more on that here). I hope someone eventually publishes the whole thing in English.

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Friedman Space, which is another of the P5 stories, can be found in English in Best New European Fiction 2010. It’s a stunning examination of the super rich and by far the best piece in the collection.

So that’s two down three to go. Hopefully Bromfield is translating Empire V.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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