Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Goatibex Constellation

Fazil Iskander

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

To purchase The Goatibex Constellation

Title: The Goatibex Constellation
Author: Fazil Iskander
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1975)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Goatibex Constellation - US
The Goatibex Constellation - UK
The Goatibex Constellation - Canada
La constellation du chevraurochs - France
Das Sternbild des Ziegentur - Deutschland
La costellazione del caprotoro - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: The Overlook Press
  • Russian title: Созвездие козлотура
  • Translated by Helen Burlingame

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : fun little novel of scenes from Soviet life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Books Abroad . (50:4) Fall/1976 Byron Lindsey

  From the Reviews:
  • "Iskander tries too hard to maintain a humorous tone and cannot quite do it. The humor is often crude and deals with types and clichés in language and situations which are not likely to entertain American readers. Essentially, it is a trivial socialist satire with Abkhazian soul. One wishes Iskander had focused only on his Abkhazia and either pared his satire down to a short story or left it altogether to sharper wits." - Byron Lindsey, Books Abroad

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Goatibex Constellation is narrated by a young Soviet journalist. Originally from Abkhazia, his first job was at a youth newspaper in Central Asia, but after being fired from it he heads back: "home to my native land, to the enchanted South", eventually landing a position at the Abkhazian newspaper Red Subtropics. He is assigned to the paper's agricultural section, headed by one Platon Samsonovich (yes: "such names are as plentiful as fish in the sea" in the region), who has become the biggest promoter of a local breeding campaign, involving the goatibex.
       The goatibex is, as the name suggests, a crossing of a mountain ibex with a goat, an arguably superior kind of hybrid whose selling points Samsonovich touts in article after article -- attracting even the attention of "a certain Moscow scientist" who is a follower of the 'Michurin school of biology'. This is a clear nod to notorious Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko, who, disastrously, did not believe in natural selection and whose harebrained theories were a catastrophe for Soviet agriculture and the field of genetics there. The Goatibex Constellation, set during this "period of radical reform for Soviet agriculture", is very much a novel about such pseudo-scientific folly, and the Soviet bureaucracy and policies that allowed it to thrive.
       Platon Samsonovich shows a deft touch in promoting the goatibex and all its ostensible benefits; among the articles he writes on it is one singled out as being among the best of the year at the paper -- arguing for: 'The Goatibex as a Weapon for Antireligious Propaganda'. He is protective and defensive about his interpretation of the significance of this advance -- making a big fuss, for example, when an agricultural research institute in Ciscaucasia touts their own crossbreeding of ibex and goat but refers to it as an 'ibexgoat'. Platon Samsonovich won't have it any other way than his, arguing even that:

The real essence of the new creature is expressed precisely in the name "goatibex," since it is this name which accurately reflects the primacy of man over untamed nature.
       At one point it is the narrator who is sent off to do a story on the goatibex, going on location, leading to an amusing series of encounters and events, not least with the locals not realizing that the visiting journalist speaks Abkhazian (and him then thinking he's ahead of the game, knowing what they're saying about him, and yet still getting himself in some difficulties).
       The novel also gives some nice insight into the functioning of Soviet society, not least when the journalist is trying to do his job:
     I wanted to jot down this bit about the cow dung, but once again the chairman grabbed my arm and forced me to put away my notebook.
     "What's wrong with writing it down ?" I asked.
     "This is just casual conversation, not the sort of thing you should write about," he replied with all the conviction of a man who knew better than I what one could and could not write about.
     "But it's the truth, isn't it ?" I asked in astonishment.
     "But do you think every truth can be written down ?" he asked, equally astonished.
     And here we were both so astonished at the other's astonishment that we burst out laughing.
       Platon Samsonovich and the newspaper go all-in on: "full-scale goatibexation" -- until, of course, the tide shifts. But, of course: "if they've called off the goatibex, there's bound to be something new" -- sooner or later, anyway.
       The Goatibex Constellation meanders along agreeably enough, with a variety of digressions which have nothing to do with the goatibex, not least some memories from the journalist's own past as well as his encounters with a girl he takes a fancy to. He meets the girl while she is on vacation, and so he also explains that: "if I purposely omit any further reference to the girl whom I met on the pier" it is, among other reasons, because she has meanwhile returned home -- though he adds, suggesting a continuation of that story at other time: "she belongs to another chapter in my life". It's an extreme example, but not untypical for the book with its open-ended storylines.
       Iskander is a story-teller, and The Goatibex Constellation is more an episodes-from-a-life collection than a truly focused novel. The goatibex campaign is a central thread of sorts, but Iskander doesn't harp solely on and around it, roaming quite far elsewhere as well. There's certainly some appeal to this, as he captures Soviet and Abkhazian life in those times colorfully and well, presenting everything in an agreeable, easygoing style, with Iskander consistently showing a confident command of all of his material -- a born storyteller at work. The drama is limited, the humor mostly gentle, but it makes for a decent read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 May 2022

- Return to top of the page -


The Goatibex Constellation: Reviews: Fazil Iskander: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Soviet author Fazil Iskander (Фазиль Искандер) lived 1929 to 2016/

- Return to top of the page -

© 2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links