Thursday, September 20, 2018
Vladimir Voinovich's Moscow 2042
It saddens me that just as the author Vladimir Voinovich came to my attention, he died. But in his memory, I'm committed to reading most if not all of his translated work. Previously, I posted on the first third his famous, three-part satire, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin. That work was at the onset of Russia's entry into World War II, certainly one of the most sensitive subjects imaginable for the millions of Russian and Soviet citizens who participated in the war, or lost loved ones in it. Voinovich's Moscow 2042, set during the Brezhnev era as well as the future, mercilessly mocks a more decadent version of Soviet soviet. In Moscow 2042, Voinovich's alcoholic narrator, a writer in exile, satirizes both 1980s Soviet society, and the now almost universally discredited dreams of that society. With his usual comedy, Voinovich points to a future that resembles the present. In 2042, the Soviet Union is an intensified version of Brezhnev-era communism. It's a land of propaganda, xenophobia, censorship, poverty, and authoritarianism. In many ways, Russia in 2042 resembles modern North Korea. In both instances, citizens have been trained, or disciplined, to avoid all forms of free expression, independence, or democratic activity. Moscow 2042 isn't a thriller. It's science fiction in the model of Yevgeny Zamyatin "We" or Orwell's 1984, if either book had a biting sense of humor. In general, it condemns communism and seems, by implication, to celebrate the West. By contrast with Moscow, Voinovich clearly believes Western Europe has experience real innovation, economic and technical expansion, and personal and artistic freedom. Ironically, the only exception to the author's implicit celebration of the West, is his focused derision of the Solzhenitsyn character who seems to be the only Russian-born alternative to the dystopic future. This character somehow seems to accurately represent the fact that decades of totalitarianism produce a peculiarly totalitarian form of resistance. Thus, Voinovich's prophet lives a rigidly disciplined life, rejects all foreign words, surrounds himself with sycophants, manically produces quasi-religious literature, and prepares to return to Russian on a horse. Voinovich seems to have accurately predicated that the collapse of communism would not produce an era of freedom, pluralism, diversity, and democratic discourse.