Long-listed for the 2016 PEN Translation Prize
A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
A dazzling, utterly distinctive saga from Russia's most celebrated and most controversial novelist
Garin, a district doctor, is desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye, where a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. He carries with him a vaccine that will prevent the spread of this terrible disease, but is stymied in his travels by an impenetrable blizzard. A trip that should last no more than a few hours turns into a metaphysical journey, an expedition filled with extraordinary encounters, dangerous escapades, torturous imaginings, and amorous adventures.
Trapped in an existential storm, Vladimir Sorokin’s characters fight their way across a landscape that owes as much to Chekhov’s Russian countryside as it does to the postapocalyptic terrain of science fiction. Hypnotic, fascinating, and richly drawn, The Blizzard is a seminal work from one of the most inventive authors writing today. Sorokin has created yet another boldly original work, which combines an avant-garde sensibility with a taste for the absurd and the grotesque, all while delivering stinging truths about contemporary life and modern-day Russia.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Vladimir Sorokin is the author of eleven novels, including Day of the Oprichnik (FSG, 2011), Ice Trilogy, and The Queue; thirteen plays, and numerous short stories and screenplays. He wrote the libretto for Leonid Desyatnikov’s The Children of Rosenthal, the first opera to be commissioned by the Bolshoi Theater in a quarter century. His books have been translated into thirty languages. He has won the Andrei Bely and the Maxim Gorky prizes, and The Blizzard was the recipient of both the NOS Literature Prize and the Bolshaya Kniga prize. In 2013, Sorokin was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. He lives in Moscow.
Read an Excerpt
By Vladimir Sorokin, Jamey Gambrell
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Vladimir Sorokin
All rights reserved.
"You have to understand, I simply must keep going!" Platon Ilich exclaimed angrily. "There are people waiting for me! They are sick. There's an epidemic! Don't you understand?!"
The stationmaster clenched his fists against his badger-fur vest, and leaned forward:
"Well now, whaddya mean, we don't understand? 'Course we do. You don't wanna stop, 'course I understand. But I don't got horses and ain't gonna get none till tomorrow!"
"What do you mean you don't have horses?!" Platon Ilich cried out in a livid voice. "What is your station for, then?"
"That's what for, but all of 'em are out, and there ain't a one to be found nowheres!" the stationmaster shouted, as though speaking to a deaf man. "Not 'less some miracle brings the mail horses in tonight. But who knows when they'll get here?"
Platon Ilich removed his pince-nez and stared at the stationmaster as though seeing him for the first time:
"My good fellow, do you comprehend that people are dying?"
The stationmaster unclenched his fists and stretched his hands toward the doctor like a beggar.
"Who don't understand dying? A'course we does. Good Russian Orthodox people dying, it's a terrible business. But look out the window!"
Platon Ilich put his pince-nez back on and automatically turned his puffy eyes toward the frost-covered windows through which nothing could be seen. Outside, the winter day was still overcast.
The doctor glanced at the clock, which was shaped like Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs; it ticked loudly and showed a quarter past two.
"It's already past two!" He indignantly shook his strong, close-cropped head, tinged with gray at the temples. "Past two o'clock! And it will get dark, don't you get it?"
"A'course, why wouldn't I be getting it —" the stationmaster began, but the doctor interrupted:
"I'll tell you what, old man! You get me some horses if you have to dig them up out of the ground! If I don't make it there today, I'll take you to court. For sabotage."
That familiar government word had a soporific effect on the stationmaster. He seemed to fall asleep, all his muttering and explaining coming to an abrupt halt. He wore a short vest, velour pants, and high white felt boots with yellow leather soles sewn on. His body was slightly bent at the waist; he seemed to freeze, remaining immobile in the dim light of the spacious, overheated chamber. On the other hand, his wife, who until now had been sitting quietly and knitting behind a calico curtain in the far corner, turned and peered out, showing her broad, expressionless face, which the doctor had already grown sick of over these last two hours of waiting, drinking tea with raspberry and plum jam and leafing through year-old copies of the magazine Niva:
"Mikhailych, what about asking Crouper?"
The stationmaster perked up immediately.
"Hmmm, we could try Crouper," he said, scratching his left arm, and half turning to his wife. "But they want official horses."
"I don't care what kind they are!" the doctor exclaimed. "Horses! Horses! I just want hor-r-r-r-ses!"
The stationmaster shuffled over to the high counter:
"If he ain't at his uncle's in Khoprov, we c'n try ..."
He lifted the telephone receiver, turned the handle a couple of times, stood up straight, put his left hand on the small of his back, and raised his balding head high as if trying to grow taller:
"Mikholai Lukich, it's Mikhailych here. Tell me, our bread man passed your way this morning? No? All right then. A'course not! Not going nowhere now, not a chance ... you're right. Well now, I'll be thanking you."
He replaced the receiver carefully. Signs of animation appeared on his carelessly shaven, ageless face, and he shuffled over to the doctor:
"Crouper didn't go to Khoprov for bread today. So he's here, prob'ly lying about next to the stove, 'cause when he goes to fetch bread, he always drops by his uncle's. They have a cup of tea and chat up a storm. He don't bring our bread till suppertime."
"He has horses?"
"He's got a sledmobile."
"A sledmobile?" The doctor frowned, taking out his cigarette case.
"If you beg him and explain, he'll take you to Dolgoye on his snow sled."
"And my horses?" Platon Ilich's forehead puckered, as he remembered his sleigh, driver, and pair of work-issued official horses.
"They can stay put for the time bein'. You can go back on 'em!"
The doctor lit up and exhaled smoke:
"And where is this bread man of yours?"
"Not too far aways from here." The stationmaster gestured behind him. "Vasya over there'll take you. Vasya!"
No one answered his call.
"He's like to be in the new cottage," the stationmaster's wife called out from somewhere behind the curtain.
She stood, her skirts swished across the floor, and she left the room. The doctor retrieved his heavy floor-length beaver coat from the coatrack, put it on, set a wide fox-fur hat with earflaps on his head, threw a long white scarf around his neck, pulled on his gloves, grabbed both of his traveling bags, and stepped firmly over the threshold of the door that the stationmaster had opened for him into the dark mudroom.
Platon Ilich Garin, the district doctor, was a tall, sturdy forty-two-year-old man with a long, narrow face and a large nose; he was closely shaven and always wore a look of concentrated dissatisfaction. His purposeful face, with its large, stubborn nose and puffy eyes, seemed to say: "You are all preventing me from achieving the very important thing I was destined by fate to accomplish, the thing I know how to do better than all of you, and to which I've already devoted most of my conscious life." In the mudroom he ran into the stationmaster's wife and Vasyatka, who immediately took his two traveling cases.
"The seventh house down thataways," explained the stationmaster, running ahead and opening the door to the porch. "Vasyatka, show the doctor gentleman the way."
Platon Ilich went outside, squinting. The day was frosty and overcast; a faint breeze had been blowing for the last three hours and a fine snow was still falling.
"He won't ask fer too much," the stationmaster mumbled, shivering in the wind. "He ain't much interested in profits. Just as long as he can drive."
Vasyatka put the traveling bags on the porch bench, disappeared back inside, and soon returned in a short fur coat, felt boots, and a hat; he grabbed the traveling bags and stomped the snow that had been swept off the porch.
"Let's go, doctor, sir."
The doctor followed, puffing on his cigarette. They walked along an empty, snow-covered village street. A good deal of snow had accumulated: it reached halfway up the doctor's fur-lined knee-high boots.
"It's coming down hard," thought Platon Ilich, hurrying to finish his cigarette, which was burning quickly in the wind. "What the devil made me take a shortcut through this blasted station? It's a godforsaken place, there are never any horses here in winter. I swore I wouldn't, but, no! I had to go this way, Dummkopf. If I'd taken the high road, I'd have changed horses in Zaprudny and driven on, and so what if it's seven versts farther, I'd be in Dolgoye by now. And the station there is well kept, and the road is wide. Dummkopf! Now you're out somewhere on a wild goose chase!
Vasyatka energetically tramped through the snow ahead, swinging the identical travel bags like a woman carrying buckets on a yoke. Though the station was called the village of Dolbeshino, it was really just a settlement with ten farmyards scattered a fair distance apart. By the time they'd hiked down the powdery main road and reached the bread man's house, Platon Ilich had begun to sweat a bit in his long coat. Snowdrifts had blown up against the old, sunken loghouse, and it looked like no one lived there. The only signs of human habitation were wisps of white smoke that the wind tore from the chimney.
The travelers passed through a front garden that was fenced off after a fashion, and stepped up onto the sagging, cracked porch, which was almost entirely buried in snow. Vasyatka gave the door a push with his shoulder and it turned out to be unlocked. They stepped into a dark entryway. Vasyatka bumped into something and said:
"Goodness ... Ouch!" In the darkness, Platon Ilich could just make out two large barrels, a wheelbarrow, and a pile of junk. For some reason the bread man's mudroom smelled like an apiary: beehives, caked pollen, and wax. The lovely summer aroma was totally at odds with the February blizzard. Vasyatka made his way with difficulty to the burlap-insulated door, opened it, and, grabbing one of the traveling cases under his arm, stepped over the high threshold:
"Hello in there!"
The doctor followed him in, ducking to miss the lintel overhead.
The izba was slightly warmer, lighter, and less cluttered than the mudroom: logs burned in a large Russian ceramic stove, a wood salt cellar stood by itself on the table, a round loaf of bread lay under a towel, a lone icon occupied a dark corner, and a pendulum clock hung on the wall like an orphan, stopped at half past six. The only pieces of furniture the doctor noticed were a chest and an iron bed frame.
"Uncle Kozma!" Vasyatka called out, carefully setting the traveling cases on the floor.
No one replied.
"Maybe he's out in the courtyard?" Vasyatka turned his wide freckled face with its ridiculous, peeling red nose toward the doctor.
"What is it?" came a voice from the top of the stove, and a head with tangled red hair, a shaggy beard, and sleepy slits for eyes appeared.
"Hello, Uncle Kozma!" Vasyatka cried out joyfully. "There's a doctor here's in a hurry to get to Dolgoye, but there ain't no horses at the station."
"So?" He scratched his head.
"Well, you could take him there on the sledmobile."
Platon Ilich walked over to the stove:
"There's an epidemic in Dolgoye, and I must be there today, without fail. Without fail!"
"Epidemic?" The bread man rubbed his eyes with big, calloused fingers that had dirty nails. "I heard about it. They was talkin' about it at the post office in Khoprov just yesterday."
"There are sick people waiting for me there. I'm bringing the vaccine."
The head on the stove disappeared, then the stairs creaked and squeaked. Kozma descended, in a fit of coughing, and came out from behind the stove. He was a short and stunted, skinny, narrow-shouldered man about thirty years old, with crooked legs and the kind of oversized hands tailors often have. His nose was sharp. His face, puffy with sleep, was kind and tried to smile. He stood barefoot in his underclothes in front of the doctor, scratching his tousled red hair.
"A vax-seen?" he said respectfully and cautiously, as though he was afraid to drop the word on his worn, cracked floorboards.
"A vaccine," the doctor repeated, and took off his fox-fur hat, which had made him feel overheated right away.
"But there's a blizzard, doctor, sir." Crouper glanced at the dimmed window.
"I know there's a blizzard! And there are sick people waiting for me!" the doctor raised his voice.
Scratching his head, Crouper went to look out the window, which was insulated with hemp chinking stuffed in around the sides.
"I didn't even fetch the bread today." He flicked a patch of window where the hoarfrost had melted from the stove's heat, and looked out. "After all, man don't live by bread alone, ain't that right?"
"How much do you want?" The doctor was losing his patience.
Crouper looked back at him as though he expected to be beaten; he walked silently over to the right of the stove where there were buckets on the bench and shelves with earthenware pots and kettles, picked up a copper ladle, scooped some water out of the bucket, and began to drink so fast his Adam's apple bobbed up and down.
"Five rubles!" the doctor proposed, in such a threatening tone of voice that Crouper flinched.
He began to laugh, wiping his mouth with his shirtsleeve:
"Now what would I be needing ..."
He put the ladle down, looked around, and hiccupped.
"But, I ... I just fired up the stove ..."
"People are dying out there!" the doctor shrieked.
Avoiding the doctor's gaze, Crouper scratched his chest and squinted at the window. The doctor stared at the bread man with such an expression on his tense, large-nosed face, it was hard to tell whether he was ready either to beat him or to burst into tears.
Crouper sighed and scratched his neck:
"Hey, youngster, you just ..."
"Wha?" Vasyatka opened his mouth, not understanding.
"Sit tight. When it catches — close the flue."
"I'll do that, Uncle Kozma." Vasyatka took off his sheepskin coat, tossed it on the bench, and sat down next to it.
"Your sledmobile ... what power is it?" the doctor asked in relief.
"Good! We'll be in Dolgoye in about an hour and a half. And you'll drive back with five rubles."
"Come on now, yur 'onor ..." Crouper smiled, waved his claw-like hand, and slapped himself on his thin haunches. "Alrighty, let's go harness up."
He disappeared behind the stove and soon came out in a thick homemade gray wool sweater and padded pants held up almost to his chest by an army belt; he clutched a pair of gray felt boots under his arm. He sat down on the bench next to Vasyatka, tossed the felt boots on the floor, and began wrapping his footcloths.
The doctor went outside to smoke. Nothing had changed: gray sky, snow, wind. The farm seemed to have died — there wasn't a human voice or dog's bark to be heard.
Platon Ilich stood on the porch and inhaled the refreshing cigarette smoke. He was already thinking about tomorrow: "I'll do the vaccinations at night and in the morning we'll go to the cemetery and take a look at the graves. We have to hope that the weather hasn't interfered with the quarantine; if someone made it through the lea pastures — you'll never find him. In Mitino there were two cordons and even that didn't help — they broke through, and started biting the population ... I wonder if Zilberstein is there already. I hope he's there! It's easier to vaccinate when you've got four hands. He and I could get through the whole village in one night ... But no, leaving from Usokh, he won't get there before me ... It's forty versts, and in this weather ... Just my luck ... A storm like this ..."
Meanwhile, Crouper had put on his boots, thrown on a small black coat and tied it with a sash, tucked a pair of long heavy mittens under the sash, pulled on a hat, picked up a loaf of bread from the table, cut off the heel, and stuck it under his coat; he cut off another piece and took a bite. Still chewing, he winked at Vasyatka, who was sitting on the bench:
"A gulp of tea to warm the bones now, eh? But ain't no time: just looky what a fuss he's making. Epi-demic! Where'd he come in from?"
"Repishnaya, I think." Vasyatka rubbed his eyes with a fist. "With the post horses. The mail driver, he went straight to bed."
"Why shouldn't they sleep, 'em fellers ..." Crouper took a farewell glance at the stove, cuffed Vasyatka on the head, and went out into the backyard chewing his piece of rye bread.
The bread man's yard was just as plain and old as the izba: a lopsided stall abutted it, stores of firewood were piled in disarray, and in the distance was a hay shed with a collapsed roof that had been hastily covered with poles and straw; close by a dark threshing barn looked like it hadn't seen a threshing for at least four years. In contrast, a small stable resembling a bathhouse was new: it had a shingled roof, well-chinked walls, and two insulated windows. Next to it, under a snow-covered lean-to, stood the sledmobile. Crouper plowed through the snow in a fast, bowlegged gait, reached the stable, stuck his hand under his shirt, pulled out a key on a string, and opened the hanging lock.
From behind the door came an intermittent, shrill sound, like the trill of a large cricket. Then three more chimed in, then more, more, and more, until suddenly it seemed an entire swarm of crickets was chirping away noisily. Then came a grunt. The chirping in the stable grew even louder.
"Now, you lot, I'm here, I'm comin' ..." Crouper unlocked the door, threw it wide open, and entered the stable.
Excerpted from The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin, Jamey Gambrell. Copyright © 2010 Vladimir Sorokin. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Note About the Author,
Also by Vladimir Sorokin,