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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Zero Train

Yuri Buida

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Zero Train

Title: The Zero Train
Author: Yuri Buida
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 2001 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Zero Train - US
The Zero Train - UK
The Zero Train - Canada
Le train zéro - France
  • Russian title: Дон Домино
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Oliver Ready

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Our Assessment:

B : effective Soviet allegory -- but feels a bit old

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 14/8/2006 Sam Alexandroni
TLS . 25/1/2002 Rachel Polonsky
World Lit. Today . 4-6/2003 Joseph Mozur

  From the Reviews:
  • "An anecdote about Beria, boss of Stalin's NKVD, provides the only concrete historical reference, but the setting could not be clearer: The Zero Train is a moving and original depiction of how, in Stalinist Russia, the individual was ground down with brutal indifference." - Sam Alexandroni, New Statesman

  • "The Zero Train is an imaginative exploration of Soviet history that stands on its own literary achievements. Oliver Ready's translation conveys with a sure hand the power and grace of Buida's supple prose. His style is at once lyrical and shocking. The norms of Socialist Realism -- prominent in the cultural hinterland that such translations expose to our view -- are manipulated with an angry bravado in this violent elegy for Ivan Ardabyev." - Rachel Polonsky, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Buida's heroes are unable to find that meaning at their station; they leave to search for it elsewhere or, like Ivan Ardabyev, end their lives in despair when they discover that the Purpose was an ignoble one. Oliver Ready's translation of Buida's parable is excellent and brings the author's rich colloquial Russian to life. The Kaliningrad author is an exciting new voice in contemporary Russian literature, and his Zero Train a must for those interested in post-Soviet Russian fiction." - Joseph Mozur, World Literature Today


Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Though written in 1993 Yuri Buida's The Zero Train is still a coming-to-terms with the old Soviet Union. The English title refers to the train that rattles by each day at station Nine where most of the novel takes place, a symbol of everything Soviet:

     "You know about this place, this train. One train every twenty-four hours. All this for one single train: track, sleepers, stations like ours, storehouses, warehouses, repair shops, bridges, logging, creosote treatment, water, coal. And people, like you and me. All for the sake of one single train. One hundred wagons, four locomotives. No delays, no breaking of rules. All done to a T. Right ?" Misha moved his glasses up his sweaty nose once more. "Where's it going ? No one knows. What's it carrying ? No one knows. Do you ?"
       The Russian title is taken from the nickname of the central character, Ivan Ardabyev, known as 'Don Domingo', and the focus is, indeed, more on the personal -- though the Zero looms overwhelmingly over all at station Nine. With parents who were 'Enemies of the People' Ivan has an enormous black mark against him, but here, he is told, he can prove himself:
     "The Motherland trusts you," the colonel repeated, in a voice less steely than before. "I also have complete faith in you. Remember this, remember once and for all: you can be counted on. Those who didn't go through what you did can also be counted on, but you doubly so. Because you have no past. Who needs one ? You hvae no present, either. You exist in the future. You are the Zero. Remember this. I won't tell you these things again.".
       To a great extent he buys into this. For most of the others, the Zero is an unmitigated disaster, a bearer of death and misery, but Ivan can see purpose in it, even as it remains a complete enigma.
       When the train derails none of those from the station are allowed near the site; when the train does touch part of their lives it is usually in a miserable way. Ivan clings to a sense of purpose, even as it is clear there is none:
"Dreams and fantasy, that's here ! All around us, Vanya, it's nonsense, absurdity, nothing. What meaning is there in all this ? None at all !"
       As everything falls apart Ivan has nothing else to cling onto, and somewhat heavy-handedly Buida describes his frustration:
     Where is everyone ? Why are there cracks in the walls ? From the rattling of the Zero. Or the rattling of his heart, a heart that had gathered a lifetime's bitterness, flammable and explosive.
       Hmmm .....
       In its description of the miserable lives at Nine and especially Ivan's struggle for understanding (himself and the world ...) The Zero Train measures up well against may of the Soviet-era (and generally samizdat) novels that similarly take on the all-powerful state in allegorical form. Perhaps those that have not read many of these novels will be particularly impressed, but with familiarity with what has become a genre also comes some fatigue, and The Zero Train doesn't stand out that far from among the huge pile of earlier books. Too much simply feels like we've seen it al before.
       It is fairly well-done, and a powerful enough little read, but The Zero Train feels a bit tired, an afterthought -- without yet the proper distance -- to a past the country was just beginning to disengage from.

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The Zero Train: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Yuri Buida (Юрий Васильевич Буйда) was born in 1954.

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© 2008 the complete review

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