Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia

by Jose Manuel Prieto
     
 

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In Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia, acclaimed author José Manuel Prieto has masterfully crafted a kaleidoscopic portrait of post-Communist Russia. Strikingly poetic and cleverly humorous, it's the story of two misfits caught between old world traditions and the lure of contemporary Western influences as they set off on an adventure to immerse

Overview


In Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia, acclaimed author José Manuel Prieto has masterfully crafted a kaleidoscopic portrait of post-Communist Russia. Strikingly poetic and cleverly humorous, it's the story of two misfits caught between old world traditions and the lure of contemporary Western influences as they set off on an adventure to immerse themselves in the beauty of the world.

Thelonius Monk (not his real name) and Linda Evangelista (not her real name) meet in Saint Petersburg after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. They journey to Yalta, where Thelonius promises to make Linda famous in the fashion magazines. But in fact, he's drafting a novel about her. Over the course of their travels, the two indulge in all sorts of sensual amusements—extravagant dinners, luxury automobiles, seaside hotels—while they engage in grand discussions of love, art, celebrity, and other existential polarities.

Alphabetically organized from Abacus to Zizi, this book defies chronology and conformity. Finding the sublime in the trivial through meditations on wildly varied subjects of fact and fancy—from Bach and Dostoyevsky to Italian alligator shoes and fluoride toothpaste—Prieto ardently explores the crossroads of literature, philosophy, history, and pop culture in this singular novel that captures a nation straddling custom and innovation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Playing off of its title, Prieto’s formally audacious novel (after Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire) is divided into 26 chapters, organized from A to Z, after a prologue, called “Encyclopedia,” wherein first-person narrator and hero Thelonius Monk (not the music legend) arrives in Russia. Thelonius shares storytelling duties with a cheeky omniscient narrator who may or may not be the author. He, to the reader’s delight, turns out to be an explorer of words, just as Monk is an explorer of fame (and his namesake was an explorer of music). Chapters are broken into mock, though actually informative, encyclopedia entries that conform to each letter and include numerous references to other entries, urging readers to flip back-and-forth and creating an ever-deepening picture of the whole. “H,” for example, is full of droll flights of narrative fact and fancy about Hand-Axes, Hard Frosts, and Hippolyte, woven into the leisurely forward movement of the low-stakes story: Thelonius meets a young woman named Linda Evangelista (not the supermodel; in fact, her real name, according to her entry in “L,” is Anastasia Stárseva) and, after a brief affair and briefer correspondence, he takes her to Yalta, where she records his daylong rooftop speech about “the unbearable beauty of the world.” Though Prieto’s plot is consciously frivolous, it has genuine resonance in the age of celebrity, and it bubbles with energy and mischief. Quirky and consistently surprising. Agent: The Wylie Agency. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia embodies the intelligence and absurdity of the Russian soul." —David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World

"A playful and poetic look at a nation at odds with itself and its infatuation with the Western world." —Time Out New York

"Playful and fascinating . . . a book of vivid impressions of Soviet and Russian culture . . . It’s also seemingly about the world of hyperlinks, of mashups on YouTube, of cut-and-paste, about the idea that someday everything knowable will be knowable by everyone. . . . As a reading experience, Encyclopedia mirrors our hyperlinked, mashed up, online lives." —Chicago Tribune

"A meditation posing as a reference book disguising a five-finger plot. It is, ostensibly, about an expatriate adventure in Russia at the end of an era. But its novelty is its schizophrenic insistence on the instant and the simultaneous, forcing the reader to travel laterally across a landscape that is anything but chronological. . . . Like all good encyclopedias, [it is] redolent of the era in which it was compiled. . . . It is an encyclopedia that, wherever you begin to read, will at some point contradict its aforementioned items. Much like Russia. Much like knowledge." —Bookslut

"[Prieto] explores the idiosyncrasies, neuroses, and loves of a people rising from the stupefying yet naively hopeful system of Communism. . . . Both a love letter to a lost world, and a vision of a world being born before his eyes, Prieto captures the precariousness of national death and rebirth." —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"Prieto’s formally audacious novel . . . has genuine resonance in the age of celebrity, and it bubbles with energy and mischief. Quirky and consistently surprising." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The narrative surges forward . . . Offbeat and witty." —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
As the title suggests, this is a novel in the form of an encyclopedia, so the narrative surges forward as the reader moves through alphabetical listings from "A" to "Z." Prieto makes his major characters pseudonymous, and the pseudonyms he chooses reflect the fascination with American culture that lies at the heart of the story. "Thelonious Monk," the compiler of the encyclopedia, has met a stunning woman, dubbed Linda Evangelista, and is convinced he can make her famous, at least in part because of the splendor of her red hair. (He sees her as "the mathematical average of all the beautiful women [he'd] known in Russia, their profiles superimposed.") Through a series of encyclopedia articles, we follow their progress from St. Petersburg to Yalta, with plenty of stops along the way for philosophical musings on both classical and modern culture. Monk is interested in everything from Adam Smith to London dandies (and their distinction from beaux, following the lines of an argument Nabokov lays out about Pushkin) to spitting. He ruminates on the sound of his false name, believing that Thelonious "sound[s] like a Nordic mammal," on organdy, and on Russian white nights. He cites sources in German, French, Latin and (of course) Russian--and fortunately for the reader, provides translations for all of them. At times, he displays the edgy cynicism of Ambrose Bierce: "OCCIDENT, THE. The mirror in which Russia gazes at itself each morning to touch up its own image." Offbeat and witty.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802120779
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia embodies the intelligence and absurdity of the Russian soul." —David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World

"Playful and fascinating . . . a book of vivid impressions of Soviet and Russian culture . . . It’s also seemingly about the world of hyperlinks, of mashups on YouTube, of cut-and-paste, about the idea that someday everything knowable will be knowable by everyone. . . . As a reading experience, Encyclopedia mirrors our hyperlinked, mashed up, online lives." —Chicago Tribune

"[Prieto] explores the idiosyncrasies, neuroses, and loves of a people rising from the stupefying yet naively hopeful system of Communism. . . . Both a love letter to a lost world, and a vision of a world being born before his eyes, Prieto captures the precariousness of national death and rebirth." —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"Prieto’s formally audacious novel . . . has genuine resonance in the age of celebrity, and it bubbles with energy and mischief. Quirky and consistently surprising." —Publishers Weekly

"The narrative surges forward . . . Offbeat and witty." —Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author


José Manuel Prieto was born in Havana in 1962. He lived in Russia for twelve years, has translated the works of Joseph Brodsky and Anna Akhmatova into Spanish, and has taught Russian history in Mexico City. He's the author of Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire and Rex. He has held teaching appointments at Cornell and Princeton, and currently teaches at Seton Hall University.

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