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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Arslan Khasavov

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To purchase Sense

Title: Sense
Author: Arslan Khasavov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Sense - US
Sense - UK
Sense - Canada
Sense - India
  • Russian title: Смысл
  • Translated by Arch Tait

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Our Assessment:

B : solid novel of a youth looking for purpose

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Sense is narrated by Artur Kara, a twenty-year-old convinced of his own genius (and also aware that it is still going unrecognized ...) and bright future: "I had no doubt about my future. It was going to be big and I would make it great". Like the author, he is a Kumyk, born in Chechnya in the late 1980s -- though much of the novel takes place in Moscow -- and Artur is Muslim but not particularly devout.
       Even as he is convinced of his genius, Artur still seeks some purpose -- some sense. As he realizes:

What do I have to complain about ? I am well, my parents are alive, I have enough food and drink, and yet something is missing. Sense is missing. I am insufficiently connected with the rest of the world.
       Dad isn't convinced that Artur is on the right path:
Where's his ambition ? What's he aiming to achieve ? He lies about, he reads.
       Khasavov captures the delusions of youth and the grand but entirely unfounded daydreams youths can lose themselves in well, with Artur able to justify to himself:
My talent may as yet be unrecognized (I haven't yet written anything all that good), but think of my potential.
       Artur thinks a lot about (and of) his potential. But even as he is drawn to writing, he also feels compelled to actually take action, realizing that: "Although art is assuredly a part of history, history trumps it a hundred times over". And Artur thinks big.
       Searching for 'sense', he turns to -- where else ? -- the Internet, "rejecting everything which struck me as conformist" until he finds a few promising leads. Then he explores his options.
       One of the groups he is attracted to is Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party; the novel also features an epigraph (a poem !) by Limonov (with another epigraph -- among several others -- a passage from the work of ... Artur Kara) and the English-language edition comes blurbed by Limonov, too: Limonov permeates the entire undertaking, and one can see why Artur is attracted to the colorful extremist writer-activist. (Recall too that Emmanuel Carrère recently wrote a (prix Renaudot-winning) work about the man, Limonov (2011).)
       Artur also approaches an Islamic group, despite his own very limited commitment to his religion. Not surprisingly, all these identities he tries on for size aren't really a great fit. It's also no surprise that instead of readily subordinating himself to a cause he envisions his own, a ridiculous teenage fantasy complete with twenty-six point 'Revolutionary's Catechism' and ambitious 'Outlines of the Future State'.
       Khasavov is at his best in the tone he sets for Artur early on, a self that's not so much cocky as deluded, building up a fantasy-world of a future entirely ungrounded in reality. There's a hint of self-mockery to it -- just enough to suggest Artur knows he's fooling himself -- but it's a convincing portrayal (and voice) of unguided youth still looking for purpose while convinced that anything is possible. "I need extremism", Artur claims, yet he's cautious, and for quite a while remains very careful not to let ugly reality intrude too much into the castle in the sky he's constructing for himself.
       Dealing with reality -- and the different waters Artur tests -- Sense bogs down a bit. A life-changing event forces the issue somewhat (and hence feels somewhat forced) -- leading also Artur to question:
     What if I was wrong ! What if my mission was just a figment of the overheated imagination of a disaffected teenager ? Actually I was twenty, just about to turn twenty-one, and still completely unknown.
       Sense is a fine portrait of someone at that age, and at that cusp -- still full of juvenile grandeur, unsure of what cause to embrace in order to find purpose. Artur does choose -- and it's not entirely convincing, in the sense that the Artur we have followed seems unlikely to take such a radical step (and would seem much more like someone who instead would choose to write a book like this ... as Artur also does, choosing both words and action). But it's an interesting choice that no doubt also plays out well in his mind; wisely, however, Khasavov does not follow through and describe what becomes of Artur; it seems very likely that his ambitious plans will not go well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 December 2012

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About the Author:

       Russian (Kumyk) author Arslan Khasavov (Арслан Дагирович Хасавов) was born in 1988.

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© 2012 the complete review

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