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Buddha's Little Finger

Buddha's Little Finger

4.0 4
by Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield (Translator), Andrew Bromfield (Translator)

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Russian novelist Victor Pelevin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most brilliant young writers at work today. His comic inventiveness and mind-bending talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him a "psychedelic Nabokov for the cyber-age." In his third novel, Buddha's Little Finger, Pelevin has created an intellectually dazzling tale about


Russian novelist Victor Pelevin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most brilliant young writers at work today. His comic inventiveness and mind-bending talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him a "psychedelic Nabokov for the cyber-age." In his third novel, Buddha's Little Finger, Pelevin has created an intellectually dazzling tale about identity and Russian history, as well as a spectacular elaboration of Buddhist philosophy. Moving between events of the Russian Civil War of 1919 and the thoughts of a man incarcerated in a contemporary Moscow psychiatric hospital, Buddha's Little Finger is a work of demonic absurdism by a writer who continues to delight and astonish.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Structurally cunning and delightfully intense...a work of rare intelligence and bite." —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Denver Post
...Buddha's Little Finger is a fun-and funny-read.
Library Journal
Seamlessly blending Russia's 20th-century history of revolution, repression, and post-Soviet depression with spoofs of the great works of literature that presaged, accompanied, or protested these events, upcoming Russian writer Pelevin shows that he is able to sustain the literary verve he first demonstrated in his short stories (The Blue Lantern) and short novels (The Life of Insects). In his intriguing new work, celebrated St. Petersburg poet Pyotr Voyd bears witness to the political and military dangers of the Russian Revolution, but he keeps waking up in contemporary Moscow, where American celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger dominates the popular mind. By turns, Voyd is a counterrevolutionary, a mental patient, a sly poet, and a hapless lover, and he is every bit as surprised as the reader by the twists and turns of fate he must endure. The Buddha-like stance Voyd assumes also infects readers, who find themselves expertly guided through a plot that in the hands of a lesser writer would have left them frustrated by cascading impossibilities. Is Voyd mad? Is any socialized, thinking human safe from insanity? Voyd doesn't fear for his intellect, but saving his skin becomes a kind of political game. While Pelevin's setting is Russia, he shows us that what is valuable in sustaining life is universal. Highly recommenced.--Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
A strangely discordant yet generally quite compelling political novel from the prize-winning (and remarkably productive) young Russian writer (The Life of Insects; A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia, both 1998, etc.). The protagonist and antihero is (the pointedly named) Pyotr Voyd, a fair-to-middling gifted poet who's swept up into the Bolshevik Revolution of 1919, during which he's appointed `commissar` to a prominent Red Army commander (Chapaev), and becomes romantically involved (unwisely) with his superior's female machine-gunner Anna. Or so Pyotr claims—until a fantasy sequence involving the prepossessing figure of Arnold Schwarzenegger strongly suggests Voyd may be a mental patient who's only imagining those aforementioned adventures—especially when Chapaev reappears as a Buddhist-inspired fellow patient who leads the bewildered poet toward `nirvana.` Pelevin's clumsily transparent satire on corrupt Western values and the need to replace them with Wisdom from the East veers continually toward sheer rant, but his imaginative re-creation of Russia's early 20th-century literary culture (in which Pyotr Voyd shares table-talk with such historical luminaries as Aleksandr Blok and Vladimir Mayakovski) vibrates with the impish energy that distinguishes so much of his other fiction. Buddha's Little Finger is, by comparison, a messy and self-indulgent performance; still, in it's ornery bifurcated way, it's another uniquely interesting book from a spectacularly talented and brainy writer.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Tverskoi Boulevard was exactly as it had been when I last saw it, two years before. Once again it was February, with snowdrifts everywhere and that peculiar gloom which somehow manages to infiltrate the very daylight. The same old women were perched motionless on the benches; above them, beyond the black latticework of the branches, there was the same grey sky, like an old, worn mattress drooping down towards the earth under the weight of a sleeping God.
Some things, however, were different. This winter the avenues were scoured by a blizzard straight off the steppes, and I should not have been in the least surprised to have come face to face with a pair of wolves during the course of my walk. The bronze Pushkin seemed a little sadder than usual - no doubt because his breast was covered with a red apron bearing the inscription: 'Long Live the First Anniversary of the Revolution'. I felt not the slightest inclination for ironical comment on the fact that the cheers were intended for an event which could not by definition last longer than a single day - just recently I had been afforded more than ample opportunity to glimpse the demonic face concealed behind such lapidary absurdities inscribed on red.
It was beginning to get dark, but I could still make out Strastnoi Monastery through the snowy haze. On the square in front of it were two open trucks, their tall side walls tightly strung with bright scarlet material; there was a crowd jostling around them and the orator's voice carried to where I stood. I could scarcely make out anything of what he said, but the general meaning was clear enough from his intonation and the machine-gun rattle of the 'r' in the words 'proletariat' and 'terror'. Two drunken soldiers walked past me, the bayonets on their rifles swaying behind their shoulders. They were hurrying towards the square, but one of them fixed his brazen gaze on me, slowed his pace and opened his mouth as though about to say something; fortunately - for him and for me - his companion tugged him by the sleeve and they walked on.
I turned and set off down the incline of the boulevard, guessing at what it was in my appearance that constantly aroused the suspicions of all these scum. Of course, I was dressed in outrageously bad taste; I was wearing a dirty coat cut in the English style with a broad half-belt, a military cap (naturally, without the cockade) like the one that Alexander II used to wear, and officer's boots. But it did not seem to be just a matter of my clothes. There were, after all, plenty of other people around who looked far more absurd. On Tverskaya Street, for instance, I had seen a completely insane gentleman wearing gold-rimmed spectacles holding an icon ahead of him as he walked towards the black, deserted Kremlin, but no one had paid him the slightest attention. Meanwhile, I was all the time aware of people casting sidelong glances at me, and on each occasion I was reminded that I had neither money nor documents about my person. The previous day, in the water-closet at the railway station, I had tried sticking a red bow on my chest, but I removed it as soon as I caught sight of my reflection in the cracked mirror; with the ribbon I looked not merely stupid, I looked doubly suspicious.
It is possible, of course, that no one was actually directing their gaze at me any more than at anyone else, and that my tight-strung nerves and the anticipation of arrest were to blame for everything. I did not feel any fear of death. Perhaps, I thought, it had already happened, and this icy boulevard along which I was walking was merely the threshold of the world of shadows. I had realized long before that Russian souls must be fated to cross the Styx when it is frozen, with their fare collected not by a ferryman, but by a figure garbed in grey who hires out a pair of skates - the same spiritual essence, naturally. Suddenly I could picture the scene in the finest of detail: Count Tolstoy in black tights, waving his arms about, skates over the ice towards the distant horizon - his movements are slow and solemn, but he makes rapid progress, and the three-headed dog barking soundlessly in pursuit has no chance of overtaking him. I laughed quietly, and at that very moment a hand slapped me on the shoulder.
I stepped to one side and swung round sharply, feeling for the handle of the revolver in my pocket, when to my amazement I saw before me the face of Grigory Vorblei, an aquain-tance from childhood. But, my God, his appearance! He was dressed from head to toe in black leather, a holster with a Mauser dangled at his hip, and in his hand he was clutching a ridiculous kind of obstetrician's travelling bag.
'I'm glad you're still capable of laughter,' he said.
'Hello, Grisha,' I said, 'how strange to see you.'
'Why strange?'
'It just is strange.'
'Where have you come from?' he asked in a cheerful voice. 'And where are you going?'
'From Petersburg,' I replied. 'As for where I'm going, I'd be glad if I knew that myself.'
'Then come to my place,' said Vorblei, 'I'm living just near by, with an entire flat all to myself.'
As we walked on down the boulevard we exchanged glances, smiles and meaningless snatches of conversation. Since the time of our last meeting, Vorblei had grown a beard which made his face look like a sprouting onion, and his cheeks had grown weathered and ruddy, as though his health had benefited greatly from several consecutive winters of ice-skating.
We had studied in the same grammar school, but since then we had seen each other only rarely. I had encountered him a couple of times in the literary salons of St Petersburg - he had taken to writing verse in a contrary style which was only heightened by its obvious self-satisfaction. I was rather irritated by his manner of sniffing cocaine in public and his constant hints at his connections in social-democratic circles; however, to judge from his present appearance, the hints must have been true. It was instructive to see someone who at one time was quite adept at expounding the mystical significance of the Holy Trinity now sporting the unmistakable signs of belonging to the hosts of evil. But then, of course, there was really nothing surprising in this transformation: many decadents, such as Mayakovsky, sensing the clearly infernal character of the new authority, had hastened to offer their services to it. As a matter of fact, it is my belief that they were not motivated by conscious satanism - they were too infantile for that - but by aesthetic instinct: after all, a red pentagram does complement a yellow blouse so marvellously well.
'How are things in Petersburg?' asked Vorblei.
'As if you didn't know.'
'That's right,' agreed Vorblei, suddenly seeming to lose interest. 'I do know.' We turned off the boulevard, crossed the roadway and found ourselves in front of a seven-storey apartment house. It was directly opposite the Palace Hotel, in front of which two machine-gun installations were visible; they were manned by sailors smoking cigarettes, and a red flag flapped in the wind at the end of a long stick.
Vorblei tugged at my sleeve. 'Look over there,' he said.
I turned my head. On the street outside the entrance to the house stood a black limousine with a tiny cabin for passengers and open front seats, on which the snow had piled up.
'What?' I asked.
'It's mine,' said Vorblei. 'It goes with the job.'
'Ah,' I said, 'congratulations.'
We entered the apartment building. The lift was not working and we had to make our way up a dark staircase, from which the carpet runner had not yet been ripped away.
'What is it that you do?' I asked.
'Oh,' said Vorblei, 'it's not something I can explain in a few words. There's really a lot of work - too much, in fact. First one thing, then another, and then something else, and all the time you have to try to keep up. First one place, then another. Someone has to do it all.'
'In the cultural line, is it?'
He inclined his head to one side in a rather indefinite fashion. I did not try to ask any more questions.
When we reached the fifth floor we approached a tall door on which there was a clearly defined lighter coloured rectangular area which showed where a name plaque had once been. He opened the door, and we went into a dark hallway when a telephone on the wall immediately began to jangle.
Vorblei picked up the receiver. 'Yes, comrade Babayasin,' he roared into the ebony cup of the mouthpiece. 'Yes, I remember ...No, don't send them ...Comrade Babayasin, I can't do that, it will look ridiculous ...Just imagine - with the sailors, it will be a disgrace ...What? I will follow orders, but I must register a vigorous protest ...What?'
He glanced sideways at me and, not wishing to embarrass him, I went through into the lounge.
The floor there was covered with newspapers - most of them banned long ago. I supposed there must have been files of them left behind in the flat. Other traces of the place's former life were also visible: there was a delightful Turkish carpet hanging on the wall and below it stood a secretaire decorated with enamel rhomboids of various colours. As soon as I saw it I realized that a well-to-do bourgeois family must have lived there. A large mirror stood against the opposite wall. Beside it hung a crucifix in the art-nouveau style, and for a moment I pondered the nature of the religious feeling which might correspond to such a work of art. A considerable part of the space was occupied by an immense bed under a yellow canopy. The items that stood on the round table in the centre of the room seemed to me - possibly because of their proximity to the crucifix - to be a still-life composed of esoteric Christian motifs: a large bottle of vodka, a halvah tin shaped like a heart, a staircase leading into emptiness constructed out of pieces of black bread laid one on top of another, three tooth glasses and a cross-shaped can-opener.
Lying on the floor beside the mirror was a pile of packages whose shapes put me in mind of contraband; a sour smell of leg-wrappings and stale drink hung in the air, and there were also a great many empty bottles in the room. I sat on the table.
Shortly afterwards the door squeaked open and Vorblei came in. He took off his leather jacket, exposing an emphatically military tunic.
'The things they give you to do,' he said as he sat down. 'That was the Cheka on the phone.'
'You work for them as well?'
'I avoid them as much as I can.'
'How did you get involved with such company anyway?'
Vorblei smiled broadly. 'It couldn't have been more simple. I had a five-minute telephone conversation with Gorky.'
'And straight away they gave you a Mauser and that limousine?'
'Listen,' he said, 'life is a theatre. That's a well-known fact. But what you don't hear said so often is that every day the theatre shows a new play. And right now, Petya, I m putting on a show the like of which you can't imagine....'
He raised his hands above his head and shook them in the air, as though he were jingling coins in an invisible sack.
'And it's not even the play that's the thing,' he said. 'To continue the analogy, in the old days anyone who felt like it could fling a rotten egg at the stage. Today, however, it's the actors who are more likely to rake the hall with machine-gun fire - they might even toss out a bomb. Think about it, who would you rather be right now? An actor or a member of the audience?'
This was a serious question.
'What can I say? The action at this theatre of yours starts much further back than you suggest,' I said thoughtfully. 'Besides, I think that the future really belongs to the cinematograph.'
Vorblei chuckled and nodded. 'All the same, you think about what I said.'
'I promise I will,' I answered.
He poured himself some vodka and drank it.
'Ah,' he said, 'about the theatre. Do you know who the Commissar for Theatres is now? Madame Malinovskaya. Of course, you never knew her, did you?'
'I don't remember,' I replied, a little irritated. 'Who the hell was she?'
'Vorblei sighed. He stood up and walked across the room without speaking.
'Petya,' he said, sitting down facing me and gazing up into my eyes, 'we keep on joking away, but I can see that something's wrong. What's happened to you? You and I are old friends, of course, but even setting that aside I could probably help you.'
I decided to risk it.
'I will be honest with you. Three days ago in Petersburg I had visitors.'
'Where from?'
'From that theatre of yours.'
'How do you mean?' he asked, raising his eyebrows.
'Just as I said. Three of them came from the Cheka, one introduced himself as some kind of literary functionary, and the others had no need to introduce themselves. They spoke with me for about forty minutes, mostly the literary one; then they said our conversation had been most interesting, but it would have to be continued in a different place. I did not want to go to that other place because, as you know, it's not one from which one very often returns ....'
'But you did come back,' Vorblei interrupted.
'I did not come back,' I said, 'I never went there. I ran away from them, Grisha. You know, the way we used to run away from the doorman when we were children.'
'But why did they come for you?' asked Vorblei. 'You've got absolutely nothing to do with politics. Was it something you did?'
'I did absolutely nothing at all. It sounds stupid even to talk about it. I published a poem in a newspaper, but it was a newspaper which didn't meet their approval. And there was one rhyme in it they did not like either: "Red" and "mad". Can you imagine that?'
'And what was the poem about?'
'Oh, it was completely abstract. It was about the stream of time washing away the wall of the present so that new patterns keep appearing on it, and we call some of them the past. Our memory tells us that yesterday really existed, but how can we be sure that all of these memories did not simply appear with the first light of dawn?'
'I don't quite understand,' said Vorblei.
'Neither do I,' I said. 'But that is not the point. The main thing I am trying to say is that there was no politics in it at all. At least, that was what I thought. But they thought differently, they explained that to me. The most frightening thing was that after the conversation with their consultant I actually understood his logic, I understood it so well that ...It was so frightening that when they led me out on to the street, I ran away not so much from them as from this new understanding of mine....'
Vorblei frowned.
'The entire story is a load of arrant nonsense,' he said. 'They're nothing but idiots. But you're a fine fool yourself. Was that the reason you came to Moscow?'
'Well, what could I do? As I was running away, I fired. You may understand that I was firing at a spectre created by my own fear, but that is hardly something I can explain to them at the Cheka.'
Vorblei looked at me seemingly engrossed in his thoughts. I looked at his hands - he was running them across the tablecloth with a barely perceptible motion, as though he were wiping away sweat, and then suddenly he hid them under the table. There was an expression of despair on his face, and I sensed that our meeting and my account had placed him in an extremely awkward situation.
'Of course, that makes it worse,' he muttered. 'But still, it's a good thing you've confided in me. I think we'll be able to sort it out ...Yes, yes, I'm sure we can sort it out ...I'll give Gorky a call straight away ...Put your hands on your head.'
I did not take in the meaning of the final words until I saw the muzzle of the Mauser lying on the tablecloth. Incredibly enough, the very next thing that he did was to take a pince-nez out of his breast pocket and set it on his nose.
'Put your hands on your head,' he repeated.
'What are you doing?' I asked, raising my hands. 'Grisha?'
'No,' he said.
'"No" what?'
'Weapon and papers on the table, that's what.'
'How can I put them on the table,' I said, 'if my hands are on my head?'
He cocked his pistol.
'My God,' he said, 'if you only knew just how often I've heard that phrase.'
'Well, then,' I said, 'the revolver is in my coat. What an incredible bastard you are. But then I've known that since we were children. What do you get out of all of this? Do you think they'll give you a medal?'
Vorblei smiled. 'Into the corridor,' he said.
When we were in the corridor he kept the gun trained on me while he rummaged through the pockets of my coat, took out the revolver and put it in his pocket. There was a furtive haste about his movements, like a schoolboy on his first visit to a brothel, and the thought occurred to me that he had probably never had to commit an act of treachery in such an obvious and commonplace fashion before.
'Unlock the door,' he ordered, 'and go out on to the landing.'
'Let me put my coat on,' I said, feverishly wondering whether there was anything I could say to this man, so excited by his own baseness, that might be capable of changing the unfolding course of events.
'We're not going far,' said Vorblei, 'just across the boulevard. But put it on anyway.'
I took the coat down from the hanger with both hands, turned slightly to thrust my arm into one of the sleeves, and the next moment, to my own amazement, I had flung the coat over Vorblei - not simply tossed it in his direction, but actually thrown it right on top of him.
To this day I do not understand how he failed to shoot me, but a fact is a fact. He pressed the trigger only as he was falling to the floor under the weight of my body and the bullet missed my side by a few inches and struck the door of the apartment. The coat covered Vorblei's head where he had fallen and I grabbed hold of his throat through the thick fabric. I managed to pin the wrist of the hand clutching the pistol to the floor with my knee, though before his fingers opened he had fired several more bullets into the wall. I was almost deafened by the thunderous noise. I think that in the course of the struggle I must have butted his covered face; in any case, I can clearly recall the quiet crunching of his pince-nez in the interlude between two shots.
Even after he had stopped moving, it was a long time before I could bring myself to release my grip on his throat. My hands scarcely obeyed me; in order to restore my breathing I performed an exercise, but it had a strange effect, inducing a mild fit of hysterics. I suddenly saw the scene from the perspective of an outside observer: a figure sitting on the corpse of a newly strangled friend and assiduously breathing according to Yogi Ramacharaki's method as described in the journal Isida. As I stood up, I was overwhelmed by the realization that I had committed murder.
Of course, like anyone else who did not entirely trust the authorities, I carried a revolver, and two days before I had had no qualms about using it. But this was something different, this was some dark scene out of Dostoevsky: an empty flat, a corpse covered with an English-style coat, and a door leading to a hostile world - a door perhaps already being approached by people attracted by idle curiosity. By an effort of will I banished these thoughts from my mind. The Dostoevskian atmosphere, of course, was not created by the corpse or the door with its bullet hole, but by myself, by my own consciousness, which had assimilated the forms of another's repentance.
Opening the door on to the stairs slightly, I listened for a few seconds. I could hear nothing, and I thought that perhaps the sound of a few pistol shots might not have attracted attention after all.
My revolver was still in Vorblei's trouser pocket, but I really did not feel inclined to retrieve it. I picked up his Mauser and looked it over. It had an excellent mechanism, and was quite new. I forced myself to search his jacket and discovered a packet of 'Ira' papyrosas, a spare cartridge clip for the Mauser and a pass for a member of the Cheka in the name of Grigory Fourply. Yes, I thought to myself - that was a typical touch; but his true character had already been clear even when we were children.
I squatted down on my haunches and opened the lock of his obstetrician's bag. Inside there was an official-looking file full of blank arrest warrants, another two cartridge clips, a tin box full of cocaine, some extremely unpleasant-looking medical forceps (I immediately flung them into the corner) and a thick wad of money, with rainbow-coloured one-hundred-rouble Duma notes on one side and dollars on the other. It was all just what I needed. In order to restore myself a little after the shock I had suffered, I stuffed a generous amount of cocaine into my nostrils. It slashed across my brain like a razor and I instantly became calm. I did not like cocaine, it made me too sentimental, but just now I needed to recover control rapidly.
Taking Vorblei under the arms, I dragged him along the corridor, kicked open the door into one of the rooms and was about to push him inside when I froze in the doorway. Despite the devastation and neglect, signs of the room's former life were still visible, illuminated by a light still there from before the war; it had been the nursery, two small beds with light bamboo railings stood in one corner and on the wall there was a charcoal drawing of a horse and a face with a moustache. There was a red rubber ball lying on the floor. When I saw it, I immediately closed the door and dragged Vorblei further along the corridor. I was startled by the funereal simplicity of the next room: standing in the centre was a black grand piano with its lid open, and beside it a revolving stool. There was nothing else.
At this moment a strange sensation came over me. Leaving Vorblei half-sitting in the corner (all the time I had been moving him I had been very careful to make sure that his face did not peep out from under the grey fabric of the coat), I sat down at the piano. How strange, I thought, comrade Fourply is here - and he is not here. Who knows what transformations his soul is now undergoing? I remembered a poem by him, published three years earlier in the New Satiricon - it took the form of a retelling of a newspaper article about the disbanding of some parliament or other and its acrostic read as 'Mane Tekel Fares', the words on King Belshazzar's wall. He was alive; he thought; he pondered over things. How very strange.
I turned towards the piano and began quietly playing a piece by Mozart, my favourite fugue inF, which always made me regret that I did not have the four hands the great musical madcap himself had dreamed of. The melody that engrossed me had nothing to do with the shocking incident with Vorblei: the image that appeared before my eyes was of the small bamboo beds in the next room, and for a second I imagined someone else's childhood, someone else's pure glance directed at the sunset, someone else's world, deeply moving beyond all words, which had now been borne off into oblivion. I did not play for very long, though, the piano was out of tune, and I knew I should be leaving as quickly as possible. But where should I go?
It was time to think about how I would spend the evening. I went back into the corridor and glanced doubtfully at Vorblei's leather jacket, but there was nothing else. Despite the daring nature of several of my literary experiments, I was still not enough of a decadent to put on a coat which had now become a shroud and, moreover, had a bullet hole in its back. I took the jacket off the hook, picked up the obstetrician's bag and went through into the room with the mirror.
The leather jacket was just my size - the dead man and I were almost exactly the same height. When I tightened the belt with the holster dangling from it and looked at my reflection, what I saw was the very image of a Bolshevik. I expect that an inspection of the packages lying by the wall would have made me a rich man in the space of a few minutes, but my squeamishness won the upper hand. Painstakingly reloading the pistol, I checked that it sprang easily from its holster and was just about to leave the room when I heard voices in the corridor. I realized that all this time the front door of the apartment had been open.
I dashed over to the balcony. It looked out on to Tverskoi Boulevard and the twenty or so yards of cold dark emptiness beneath it held nothing but swirling snowflakes. In the circle of light from a street lamp I could see Vorblei's automobile, and a man wearing a Bolshevik helmet who had somehow appeared in the front seat. I decided that Vorblei must have summoned the Cheka when he was on the telephone. It was impossible to clamber down on to the balcony below, so I dashed back into the room. They were already pounding on the door. So be it, I thought, all of this had to come to an end sooner or later. I aimed the Mauser at the door and shouted: 'Enter!'
The door opened and two sailors in pea-jackets and rakishly flared trousers came tumbling into the room;

Reprinted from Buddha's Little Finger by Victor Pelevin by permission of Viking, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Victor Pelevin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Meet the Author

Victor Pelevin is the author of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories, The Life of Insects, Omon Ra, The Yellow Arrow, and The Blue Lantern, a collection of short stories that won the Russian "Little Booker" Prize. His novel Buddha's Little Finger was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He was named by The New Yorker as one of the best European writers under thirty-five and by The Observer newspaper in London as one of "twenty-one writers to watch for the 21st century."

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Buddha's Little Finger 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best Pelevin's books
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A strange and delightful trip through some fantastic terrain, both outside and inside. The beginning bogged down a little for me, but after that I couldn't put it down. I've read it twice and think it is a book that needs to be taken in again and again. But let me add- if you aren't interested in Buddhism, Zen and the 'realness' of exsistence don't even take this trip.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the victorious Reds still had to face the Whites in a Civil War. Dmitry Fermanov's 1923 novel, Chapaev celebrated one of that conflict's greatest generals. In Buddha's Little Finger, Victor Pelevin, whose loathing for his national heritage couldn't be more intense, takes hilarious aim at both Chapaev and Fermanov, making them both riotous figures of fun. Buddha's Little Finger highlights the unreality of Russia today and traces its similarities to Russia during the days of the Revolution by weaving back and forth between the 1990s and 1918-19. In the 1990s, the first-person narrator of Buddha's Little Finger is Pyotr Voyd, a patient in a mental hospital. In 1918-19, this same person is Petya, Chapaev's sidekick. Each of these narrators, in a drug-induced hypnotic trance, talks about critical moments in his inner life. Buddha's Little Finger is a story of a spiritual quest that encompasses several short stories inserted into the whole of the novel. These stories share a thematic connection to the novel-as-a-whole, but little else, revolving around parodies of Russian history, critiques of modern Russia, investigations of Japanese culture and intense philosophical debates among the characters. Pelevin treats us to dreams, visions and absurdity a la Gogol and Kafka as well as to moments of genuine lyrical beauty. At the heart of this book, however lies the ago-old question, 'Who am I?' For Pelevin, the answer lies in a fictional construct. He tells us, through his characters, that what for years has seemed so real and immutable has really been nothing more than an illusion; a reality as flimsy and diaphanous as a dream. Pyotr Voyd's (the choice of the name was deliberate) mental illness is a literary device symbolic of the illogical disjunctions in Russia's history, but, in the context of the novel, the illness has been caused by those very same historical changes; an ironic twist on the doctrine of dialectical materialism. Buddha's Little Finger is a novel haunted by nothingness. Indeed, Pelevin seems to pay homage to nothingness; the Russian title of this book means 'Chapaev and Emptiness.' Chapaev, however, stands for 'something,' but the something he stand for is little more than a cardboard myth. Voyd, the anti-hero, represents the 'nothingness,' that followed years of heroic struggle in the Soviet Union and that lives on in the Russia of today. Buddha's Little Finger is definitely not a quiet, meditative treatise on Buddhism; it is a lively, absurd, disjointed postmodern novel that expresses life's problems without offering any patent answers. Instead, Pelevin give us the typically postmodern shrug, the ironic wink, the standard lip service paid to pat political remedies. At one point, Pelevin describes the answer as an 'incredible trip, the likes of which you couldn't get out here from a fix or a grand in greens. And no stopping--get it? Morning, noon and night.' At times, Buddha's Little Finger does borrow heavily from Buddhist thought, toying with its symbols and seeming contradictions, as in 'As soon as I know...I am no longer free. But I am absolutely free when I do not know.' At times like these, the novel takes us back to the pre-revolutionary novelist Andre Biely, the symbolist poet Alexander Blok, the mystical visions of Sergei Soloviev. Buddha's Little Finger is a masterfully told tale, on par with Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Like The Master and Margarita, Buddha's Little Finger draws the reader in piece by piece so that the effect is more poetic than novelistic. In the end we are left with a series of philosophical images and puzzles that satisfy far more than any 'quick fix' plot contrivances ever could.