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the pathetic caverns - books by author - Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky

eclectic reviews and opinions

Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky

Monday Begins on Saturday

Monday Begins on Saturday is essentially three closely-linked surrealism-soaked novellas, primarily set in a mythical Soviet institute for scientific research into "thaumaturgy and spellcraft." The Strugatsky brothers weave elements from assorted folklore traditions and mythoi with reckless abandon -- part of the fun is that you never know quite what familiar character or trope might pop up next. The English translation by Leonid Renen was first published in 1977; and it's tempting to wonder if some better-known works might have been partially inspired by this book: there's a rather mysterious sofa (a la Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently); the incorporation of mythic figures into a modern setting in places is reminiscent of writers like Neil Gaiman or Tom Holt; the absent-minded and surprisingly gentle director of the institute, Janus Poluektovich, might even bear a slight resemblance to J.K. Rowling's Dumbledore -- and to varying degrees, fans of all of those authors might find things to like in Monday Begins on Saturday (it's not a children's book, but it's often drolly funny, and there's no language in it that can't be heard on network television -- I think I was twelve when I first read it, and although some of it was over my head, my memories of it were very fond).

It's also a Russian novel, and a Soviet novel. The former means that the English reader may feel slightly swamped by complex names -- Sasha, Alessandro and Alexander are all the same person. (I think there was another diminutive used somewhere too.) But then, there's an Eddie and a Victor; it's not all heavy going by any means. The latter means that the novel had to be acceptable to the regime under which it was published, but it's not steeped in propaganda -- the most overt note is that what may be a picture of Barry Goldwater (or the less contentious Joe McCarthy; the narrator isn't sure) appears alongside a gallery of the world's most evil personages. In fact, the book is perhaps surprisingly, if mildly, critical of the police and of bureaucratic structures in general.

Despite the fact that the Brothers Strugatsky were two of the most prominent Soviet science fiction authors, most of their work has been out of print for years, and is apparently collectible -- I had a sudden hunger to re-read "Monday," and was dismayed that the only copy I could locate was priced at a quite capitalistic fifty dollars. However, with a little poking around in a search engine, the discerning reader might be able to turn up a copy of the full text of Renen's translation, perhaps marred by a handful of OCR errors, but quite readable. Or maybe not.

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