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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Librarian

Mikhail Elizarov

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To purchase The Librarian

Title: The Librarian
Author: Mikhail Elizarov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 410 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Librarian - US
The Librarian - UK
The Librarian - Canada
The Librarian - India
Le bibliothécaire - France
Il bibliotecario - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining premise, reasonably well spun-out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 9/2/2015 .
Sunday Herald . 22/3/2015 Lesley McDowell
TLS . 17/7/2015 Alexander Etkind

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though the pacing of the novel is erratic and the cast of characters too large, this chaotic tale puts a magical twist on its satire." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Satire, polemic and fantasy merge together." - Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald

  • "A fantasy about the resurrection of the Soviet dream, most of it reads like pure nostalgia; but it is also infused with irony which combines fruitfully with the cruelty of the story, fanaticism of its actors and victimization of its protagonist. (...) The Soviet dream may be dead, but, asks Elizarov, could its relics and devotees be hiding in the abandoned villages and desolate provinces of Eastern Europe ? What kind of heat or rage might be needed for the frozen Soviet blood to circulate again in the sclerotic heart of post-Soviet degeneration ?" - Alexander Etkind, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       The Librarian begins with a brief introduction of the (fictional) Soviet-era writer, Dmitry Alexandrovich Gromov (1910-1981). He published a half-dozen works between 1951 and 1977, but:

His books sank without trace in a bottomless abyss of recycled paper, and when political catastrophes finally demolished his Soviet Homeland, it seemed that there was no one at all left to remember the writer Gromov.
       The books seem entirely unremarkable -- indeed, of almost no literary worth. As "the harmless verbal trash of a war veteran" they were put on the market by the state machinery for a while -- "altogether more than half a million volumes of Gromov's works were printed" -- but few copies survived.
       It hardly sounds like much of a loss -- except that Gromov's works turned out to have rather special properties. Read under the correct conditions -- 'Continuity' and 'Zeal' (basically a concentrated reading of the text) -- the books are capable of: "deforming the personality of the reader", allowing for: "the hyperstimulation of its innermost resources". (Notably, only the original editions do the trick: copying or even photocopying saps them of their power.) Each of Gromov's books corresponds to a different quality -- the 1965 novel Narva, for example, is the 'Book of Joy' -- covering: strength, power, fury, endurance, joy, and memory. Finally, there is also the renowned but elusive and possibly mythical 'Book of Meaning', perhaps the key to everything .....
       Elizarov introduces a number of characters who stumble across the secret of the Gromov-books -- generally by finding a copy of a Gromov novel under unusual circumstances and unleashing the power within -- and imagines a whole tribal culture of clans built around the books, with Librarians as high-priests, and local reading rooms devoted to the texts. Recognizing the power of the books, there are struggles to obtain the rare copies; when most of the accessible public ones have been stolen from the libraries and other repositories where they had escaped being pulped, the more desperate begin raiding each others' reading rooms and collections. There is an oversight organization -- the Council of Libraries--, but its control is somewhat limited, and while battles are usually fought following strict rules, the high stakes lead to a great deal of nefarious and violent activity.
       Into this steps Alexei Vladimirovich Vyazintsev, who also steps forward as narrator once we get to his part in the story. When his uncle dies, Alexei goes to take care of the estate -- and finds that his uncle was a Librarian and keeper of one of the valuable Gromov-texts. Before he even understands what's going on he is in the middle of a struggle for the book, and then finds himself playing a leading role in the local reading room.
       Alexei finds himself in the middle of a lot of action, his reading room the center of rather too much activity. Soon enough, things look rather bleak:
Our prospects seemed dismal in the extreme: violation of the code of secrecy, the flight of a reader, concealment of facts representing a threat to common security, an unsanctioned operation to eliminate probable witnesses -- all this was more than enough to add up to another "A" sanction, with the confiscation of the Book and the disbandment of the reading room already waiting in the wings.
       Beyond these concerns however are also the secrets of the Gromov-texts: the fighting is about the six known volumes, his six published works -- but what of the possibly mythical seventh work, the 'Book of Memory' ? Eventually, it too comes into play -- and with it Alexei's destiny is decided.
       Elizarov has some good fun with his premise, and his vision of this secret bookish society -- and the power the books can give the people -- is presented quite well. There is rather a lot of combat here -- often of an unusual sort, as the rules and guidelines limit what weapons can be used, for example -- and so The Librarian is surprisingly violent for a bookish book. The mix of fantasy (which wants to be taken seriously) and satire remains uneasy, but Elizarov's depiction of this post-Soviet world impresses in many stretches; he's also good with the individuals' stories.
       The Librarian is a bit unwieldy, and gets too caught up in yet another battle on occasion, but is crammed with enough ideas and colorful action to pull the reader through it -- with parts that stand out very nicely.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 March 2015

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The Librarian: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Mikhail Elizarov (Михаил Юрьевич Елизаров) was born in 1973

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