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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Blizzard

Vladimir Sorokin

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To purchase The Blizzard

Title: The Blizzard
Author: Vladimir Sorokin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Blizzard - US
The Blizzard - UK
The Blizzard - Canada
The Blizzard - India
La tourmente - France
Der Schneesturm - Deutschland
  • Russian title: Метель
  • Translated by Jamey Gambrell

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Our Assessment:

B : sly and twisted spin on classical writing, and Russia

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 17/8/2012 Kerstin Holm
Harper's . 12/2015 Joshua Cohen
The National . 3/12/2015 Malcolm Forbes
NZZ . 19/12/2012 Ulrich M. Schmid
The NY Times . 19/1/2016 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/1/2016 Masha Gessen
Publishers Weekly . 28/9/2015 .
TLS . 6/1/2016 Victoria Nelson

  From the Reviews:
  • "(E)ine Hommage an die Klassik, die es zugleich nach vorne weiterspinnt." - Kerstin Holm, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A) crazed fantasia on Tolstoyís tale, with all the moralizing ingeniously whited out." - Joshua Cohen, Harper's

  • "Hypnotic and inventive, this is an immensely rewarding read. It may be Sorokinís most accessible novel to date, but it still comes with more than its fair share of strangeness to delight and disorientate faithful followers and new recruits." - Malcolm Forbes, The National

  • "Im Schneesturm macht Sorokin einen Schritt über die reine Materialisierung der Klassiker hinaus: Er braust selbst als Sturm durch die russische Buchkultur; macht die Wegpfosten der einzelnen Hauptwerke unsichtbar und raubt seinem Leser jede Orientierung in der Bewertung der literarischen Tradition. -- Dieser ästhetische «Schneesturm» ist gleichzeitig Katastrophe und Katharsis." - Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "As for the larger novel and the doctorís Odyssean journey through the blizzard, it devolves into a tired slog through waist-deep and seemingly endless drifts of snow." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "(T)his novella is in fact a satire and a dystopian tale rolled into one. (...) Knowing when to pick oneís battles is the mark of a great translator, and Gambrell is one. Her translation is as elegant, playful and layered as the original -- and never appears labored." - Masha Gessen, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Itís not fair to call this story "Turgenev with zombies," since the book bears Sorokinís usual mix of bleak social commentary and unfettered strangeness (...). However, it doesnít quite rise to the level of his previous books, despite its fast pace and air of frigid danger." - Publishers Weekly

  • "There is a pleasing improvisatory feel to this enigmatic tale (.....) Even in Vladimir Sorokinís most ferocious political satires, his aesthetic embraces something larger than the postmodern or didactic. Here he is closest in spirit not to the older Russian masters but to the Symbolist poet Alexander Blok" - Victoria Nelson, 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:

       In tone and setting, The Blizzard has the feel of the nineteenth century, and it resounds with echoes of the classical Russian literature of the time, with scenes and passages and set-ups out of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol, and others in turn. The setting is a snowbound hinterlands of some Russia, the time apparently roughly contemporary -- among the few clues as to period is the mention that a character's great-grandfather: "often reminisced about the distant Stalin era". But this is also an alternate world, in which things aren't quite like here.
       The central figure is district doctor Platon Ilich Garin, and most of those he encounters on his desperate expedition to the town of Dolgoye live in conditions that, by and large, are nineteenth-century -- yet there are also some futuristic inventions: the household phones may still be landlines knocked easily out of commission, but the locals can: "watch the radio" -- impressive holographic displays (albeit apparently limited to three channels).
       Garin is desperate to get to quarantined Dolgoye to bring a vaccine for those who can still be helped: they've had an outbreak of 'the black sickness', a plague, apparently of Bolivian origin; from the sound of it, it turns those infected into zombies.
       The novel begins when Garin has reached Dolbeshino, a shortcut (or so he had misguidedly thought, looking on the map) on the way to Dolgoye where he finds himself stopped in his tracks because there are no fresh (or any) horses at the station he can switch his for. But he finds someone willing to take him the rest of the way: nicknamed Crouper, the local has a fifty-horse-power sledmobile, and for five rubles is willing to take the doctor through the blizzard; "Good ! We'll be in Dolgoye in about an hour and a half", the good doctor (foolishly) imagines. The sledmobile is a typical Sorokin touch, a surreal bit of fantasy in a narrative that's otherwise fairly straightforwardly realistic (though more such bits accumulate as the novel and journey move on): it is, in fact, powered by actual horses, kept under a hood; truly miniature, each: "was no bigger than a partridge".
       Garin and Crouper -- and the horsies -- must battle the elements, as a blizzard is raging. The road is hard to find, much less see, but Crouper knows his way around and is confident he can get them on the right path. Of course, they face one hardship after another -- beginning with the sled's runners getting damaged when it runs over a bizarre small, glass-like, nearly weightless (but: "Hard as steel") pyramid-object. (It's not the strangest thing they hit: later, they'll literally get stuck in a disproportionate not-quite-human nose: "The runner pierced the maxillary sinus and got stuck there", the doctor diagnoses.)
       They are repeatedly and constantly delayed. They spend one night in a household where the husband is truly diminutive, and the doctor also takes a rather different kind of detour when they come across the cultish Vitaminders -- who hold the secret to the pyramids the travelers stumbled over ("We are still trying it out ourselves. Looking for the limit").
       The doctor and Crouper advance, but are constantly slowed -- by the elements (that raging blizzard, that only sometimes lets up), wolves, and those rather odder physical obstacles, as well as the fact that they occasionally lose their way. As the exasperated doctor plausibly notes late on: "I could have walked there faster !"
       The trip is not a success. At the novel's conclusion, Garin realizes:

it now appeared that a new phase was beginning, one that wouldn't be easy, would most likely be extremely difficult and grim, something he could never have imagined before.
       The black plague the doctor hoped to tackle can be seen to represent the rot of domestic Russia -- and the doctor proves unable to do his little part to alleviate at least some of the suffering. The Russian conditions, as symbolized by his arduous journey -- so short in distance, so impossible in reality -- are too much to overcome; salvation, of some sort, and a future comes from other, foreign hands, in a conclusion that suggests everything about old Russia has been lost and left behind.
       Sorokin cleverly and quite amusingly plays off of classical literature in The Blizzard -- Russian, mainly, but not solely (beginning with some Gulliver's Travels elements). Echoing throughout the novel, it's a clever, broad foundation that Sorokin does not rely too much on but uses effectively. He also has a nice feel for grounding his story in the plausibly-real -- which make the outlandish elements all the more effective. Only in Garin's drug-induced (well, something like that, anyway) side-'trip' does Sorokin perhaps detour too far.
       Quite enjoyable and clever.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 November 2015

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The Blizzard: Reviews: Vladimir Sorokin: Other books by Vladimir Sorokin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Vladimir Sorokin (Владимир Сорокин) was born in 1955.

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