Happy 63rd Birthday, Vladimir Sorokin!

Picture of Vladimir Sorokin

Born August 7, 1955 in the Moscow region, Vladimir Sorokin is an internationally acclaimed Russian writer. When I asked my babushka for recommendations of contemporary Russian writers, he was the first one she mentioned.

Biography and Background

After graduating Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in 1977 with a degree in engineering, Sorokin was promptly dismissed from the journal where he was working, Смена Smena (Shift), for supposedly refusing to become a Komsomol (a member of the youth communist league). Rumour has it, though, that Sorkin actually was a member of the party. That is, before he tore up his membership card and threw the scraps into the toilet.

During the 80s, Sorokin was an active member of Moscow’s underground literary scene. In 1985, six of his stories and a novel, Очередь Ochered’ (The Queue), were published in France. As the Soviet Union weakened and began to crumble, Sorokin’s work began to be published at home. His 1992 collection of stories, Сборник рассказов Sbornik Raskasov, was nominated for the Russian Booker. From there he rose to fame and international renown. He is even rumored to have received a taxi ride from star writer Victor Pelevin. The two literary men recognized each other, but it was Pelevin who first asked the question, “Isn’t it you who wrote  Голубое сало Goluboe Salo (Bacon Fat lit. Light-blue Lard)?”

Sorokin is not, however, without his detractors. After the release of the novel Goluboe Salo in 1991, a group of activists held protest actions, burning his books and accusing him of pornography. Sorokin was cleared of all charges in court.

Style and Notable Works

Sorokin is best described as a post-modernist who utilizes a number of different styles and techniques.

During his days in the Moscow underground, Sorokin produced experimental, conceptualist work and became a literary figurehead of соц-арт soc-art, a Soviet spin-off of pop-art. Conceptualism emphasizes the concept of the art itself, while soc-art can be thought of as a combination of socialist-realism and pop-art. Whereas pop-art satires the West’s overproduction of goods and services, soc-art satires the USSR’s overproduction of ideology. Sorokin’s novel Очередь Ochered’ (The Queue), for instance, is a satirical take on a commonplace Soviet Reality — the never-ending queue. The novel is written entirely in dialogue, without any apparent characters, setting, plot, or stage directions.

Perhaps Sorokin’s most well-known novel, День опричника Den’ Oprichnika (Day of the Oprichnik), is set in dystopian Moscow of 2027. The novel imagines a resurgence of Monarchist Rus, in which a brutal Oprichnik, a high-level government henchman, commits acts of ultra-violence and corruption in the name of his motherland. If you’re a fan of A Clockwork Orange and 1984, Day of the Oprichnik is a must read.

One cautionary word: Sorokin’s works often contain sordid, abject, violent, and generally off-putting content matter. He’s not for the faint of heart.

Aside from prose, Sorokin writes scripts for theater and film. He also works as a visual artist.

A Few Words from the Birthday Boy Himself

Книга — это вещь. Как пиджак или любимая трость. У неё есть запах, вес, шелест её страниц. На книгу можно поставить горячий чайник, можно положить её под подушку, облить слезами или вином. Можно забыть её в поезде.

A book is a thing. Like a jacket or an old man’s beloved cane, it has a scent and weight. Its pages rustle. You can place a hot teapot on a book, or you can put the book under your pillow. You can drench it with tears or with wine. You can forget it on the train. (Original translation.) 

Happy Birthday, Vladimir Sorokin!

Michael Mayberry

Posted by Michael Mayberry

I'm a Russian-American interning at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg. So excited to be part of this magically eclectic city.

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