Rebelling without a cause

Searching for a life with meaning and purpose, twenty-year-old Artur Kara visits a series of political groups in Moscow, encountering former prisoners from Guantanamo at the headquarters of the Islamic Committee or literary dreamers among the National Bolsheviks. Unable to find a group he wants to join, he plans his own revolution.

The comic element in Khasavov’s writing rescues it from drowning in adolescent self-absorption. It is unlikely that young writers emerging from western schools of creative writing would dare to make their hero a wannabe-author, but Kara’s opening lines are a fantasy about his future fame as “the writer of brilliant books”; his pseudo-autobiographical admissions are intimate and awkwardly funny.

Prolific translator Arch Tait (who has also translated novels by literary-bestseller Ludmila Ulitskaya), brilliantly conveys the hero’s stylistic pretentions, alongside other registers from ideological jargon to celebrity LiveJournal blogs. Tait has commented on Khasavov’s “sense of irony and humor” and his ability to “distance himself from his hero’s social preoccupations and hyperbole.” In many ways, the alienation young Kara feels is the classic confusion of any misfit teenager, quoting Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, struggling to find a place in an uncaring society. The gap between Kara’s ambition and his life provides both comedy and pathos. A poor Muslim boy with a limp, he sees himself as a glamorous revolutionary leader. Sitting in a suburban Moscow park, he reflects on the difficulty of his chosen path, “the path of a Samurai, of an infinitely lonely man who has chosen to be lonely. And here is that man now … finishing what remains of his hot dog.” His manifesto includes principles like using human sewage to heat apartments, or compulsory public nudity.

Kara’s ultimate goal is immortality at whatever cost. He regularly daydreams about his successful future life, where “palaces await me with luxuriant gardens.” At the same time, he is contemptuous of the material aspirations he imagines for the workers in Moscow’s new sky-scraping business complex “package holidays in Goa … high-definition TVs.” They will “buy everything that can be bought,” he says, but always want something more: “If they have a car, they will want a yacht. If they have a wife, they will want a mistress. They will substitute money for God...”

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