Arslan Khasavov Sense (New Russian Writing)

ISBN 13: 9785717200936

Sense (New Russian Writing)

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9785717200936: Sense (New Russian Writing)
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SENSE is the name of the organization launched by a Narcissistic 20-year-old boy who wants to live for the sake of a lofty goal but is unable to fit into any socio-cultural framework. He yearns for glory and finally decides that the only way to win it is to stage a revolution.
SENSE paints an ironic picture of Russia’s political life today and shows to what limits an indifferent and hypocritical society can push a romantically-minded young person. It is about a young man’s rebellious search for identity and his attempts to find some sense in the chaos around him. In his attempts to find co-thinkers the protagonist meets ex-prisoners of Guantanamo, some National Bolsheviks, the Islamic Committee, and the Youth Union Hurray!”

The protagonist, called Artur, is an idealist who wants to live for the sake of a lofty goal. Through the eyes of a person who is unable to fit into any socio-cultural framework because of his lameness, and against the background of the present-day political situation, the author shows the limits to which an indifferent and hypocritical society can push a romantically-minded and well-meaning young person.
He examines the world map and decides that Turkmenistan would be the best place for his revolutionary plan. He starts looking for followers prepared to die for a great cause and soon finds them among the members of present-day radical political organizations. He visits three such organizations: the National Bolsheviks, the Islamic Committee, and the Youth Union Hurray!” He describes their gatherings vividly and with a strong dose of irony. He meets ex-prisoners of Guantanamo, who talk to him about the imminent battle of good and evil and the fight against the infidels. He witnesses the attack of Nashi-fighters on the National Bolsheviks. Finally he visits the office of the Kremlin-supported youth movement Hurray!” where he is offered free use of all their facilities because everything has been generously paid for.”
In the final part the hero muses over the goals of his movement as he finds on his desk a curious political program which mysteriously materialized there -- called Outlines of the Future State”. It starts with a chapter on reform of public heating” suggesting that houses should be heated with human excrement. The other proposed reforms are in the same absurdist style: to decree that all people should walk about naked, to ban the family and education, etc. Finally Artur drafts 136 young people and leads them to the Karakum Desert. For all of them it makes no difference what they are fighting for the main thing is to break away from their bleak everyday existence and find glory.

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About the Author:

Arslan Khasavov, a Kumyk by nationality born in 1988, spent his childhood in Turkmenistan. He graduated from Asia and Africa Institute in Moscow in 2010 and spent a year at Damask University. He also took a degree from the Moscow Literary Institute. In 2008, his novel Sense, nominated for the Debut Prize, merited a special commendation of the jury, and in 2009 his short story collection One More Chance for Glory was again singled out by the Debut jury. The same year the book was a finalist of the Faculty” Prize and the Astafyev Prize. His next novel: Paradise under the Shade of Swords, describes an ordinary country boy who is gradually drawn into a Jihad war.
Arslan contributes to major periodicals and also writes columns on the Northern Caucasus for the BBC Russian Service.
His work first appeared in English in the 2010 Glas anthology Squaring the Circle which toured the UK and US in 2011.

Translator: Arch Tait is famous for his translations of Ludmila Ulitskaya and Anna Politkovskaya and has many other important titles to his credit. A Cambridge graduate he used to lecture at the University of Birmingham and was a Glas co-editor for a few years.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From the Nationale Hotel I made my way up Tverskaya Street. Boutiques, restaurants, newspaper kiosks, everything familiar was suffused with something unfamiliar. A shirt with intricate patterns in a shop window hadn’t changed since last I saw it, yet now it seemed quite different, not how it had looked yesterday or the day before, or when it was first arranged in the display. Different. This differentness was everywhere. Everything was imbued with change. On Tverskaya itself there were army vehicles of various descriptions, mainly khaki, but some were blue with barred windows and the word Police’ painted on them. There were what at first glance seemed to be ordinary buses, but the bodies moving about inside them were wearing military uniforms. Huge antennae mounted on specialist vehicles reached out a dozen hands in different directions. On the roof of a Gazelle truck a policeman perched, looking into the viewfinder of the videocamera presciently mounted there and pointed in the direction of where I was going. By the red painted headquarters of the Mayor of Moscow, from whose balcony, a plaque reminded us, Lenin once spoke, a young soldier was trying on a backpack with an aerial only too familiar from films about the Second World War. Behind the Podium jewellery store, as if trying to hide, fifty riot police were on duty, their trousers tucked into their boots and their helmets the size of ripe watermelons.
Some loser I didn’t recognise was cleaning the windows of the jewellery shop with a special mop, a sponge neatly attached to a long thin pole. By his feet, a red bucket filled with murky water stood on the pavement of Tverskaya. How can anyone be cleaning windows with all this going on?” I looked at the road. Hundreds of cars sped Muscovites in both directions. How can people be going about their business with all this going on?” I looked reproachfully at the window cleaner, a scrawny little man with a wispy moustache. What can I do about it? I’ve got a family to feed,” he thought apologetically, I thought.
Tverskaya Street was blocked. The usual party of force had settled there, posted throughout central Moscow by their unknown warlord. I had almost arrived. I needed only to get through to Mayakovsky Square, the epicentre of events which promised to culminate in an outburst of street fighting.
Here we shall do well to turn for a moment from the military force and focus on the figure I cut. I was clad in tight black trousers, a black turtleneck, a black sailor’s sheepskin jacket, black hat, and brutal pointed boots I had burnished before setting out. My black bag, which usually felt so heavy, today was weightless. I felt elated, and seemed not to be walking but hovering a couple of feet above the ground and moving my legs only in order not to attract attention. In this manner I proceeded from the Modern History Museum to Mayakovsky Square. God grant I get the chance to experience that buzz at least once more in my life.
Here the military stood shoulder to shoulder. Faces were distributed along the full 500 metres or so of the pavement. As if on parade, they stood solemn and resolute, but registering no real understanding of what they were doing there. There were almost no pedestrians. I would even say, I was on my own. All those who were supposed to be at the protest were already there. Others had probably chosen different routes. I was alone with the army and we were not on the same side.
I knew that in all probability every one of them was a perfectly decent guy. They all had their own life story and it was only circumstances obliged them to stand there, obeying orders from superiors rather than marching with me and others to demand a revolution, to create one. I walked on, feeling like a doomed revolutionary on my way to the firing squad. The eyes of all the soldiers were on me. Entering into the part, I walked a little taller, added to my expression a hint of ruefulness at being thus caught, and a little disdain. At the same time, I was thinking, Don’t worry, guys, I don’t hold this against you. You are only doing your job. Everything’s cool.” They all admired me, I thought, my dignity and bearing. I wasn’t weeping, wasn’t snivelling or trying to find a way out, but marching contemptuously towards the scaffold.
Having proceeded 200 yards in the guise of a tragic captive, I was suddenly transformed into the leader who had forced the regime to take such meticulous precautions, cluttering up Moscow with military hardware and the people who serviced it. I became the visionary politician, a living legend, whom chance circumstance had caused to be late in coming to head his rebel army but for whom self-sacrificing people were waiting in the square, people willing to die for my ideas, for my person, and for the order I planned to establish. This role suited me no less than the previous one. The roles came to me of their own accord, imposed on me by my heart. I could even feel the cold metal of a pistol tucked into my trousers and concealed by my jacket. What sort of leader doesn’t carry a pistol? Of course, when the bullets started flying in my direction, valiant men would shield me with their own bodies, saving my life as they perished one after the other. Later I would weep at their graves and pray and award them posthumous honours, but not just now. Just now we were joined in a decisive battle and there was no place for tears.
When I suddenly became transformed into the rebel leader, the young soldiers whose eyes had been following me also changed. There was more contempt in their faces too, but in most of them I read, It is my duty to despise you now, but when battle commences we will all come over to your side and support you!”
In Mayakovsky Square the speaker was saying into his microphone, The regime is scared of us. It is a cowardly regime! We shall return to this place! We’ll be back!”. Thousands of young throats picked up the refrain: We’ll be back!” Someone in the crowd shouted Re-vo-lu-tion!” and everyone shouted back, Re-vo-lu-tion!” The December wind fluttered banners, red and white, black and white, orange. I had arrived precisely as the protest was ending.
Journalists from TV companies I didn’t know were speaking into microphones, reporting to their fellow citizens on the events taking place. The riot police started flexing their muscles in anticipation. Someone unfurled a white banner above the rally with black lettering which read, Welcome, March of Political Prostitutes!” Provocateurs!” said an old man standing next to me. The protestors shouted, Get stuffed! Get stuffed!” at the provocateurs and there was so much energy in that chanting, such enormous power!
I was looking for Limonov. I wanted to see him. I intended to meet him, or someone in the party leadership in order through them to contact him. I had studied their faces on the Internet until I could recognise the party’s entire executive committee. There were a great many people around and to find Limonov was a practical impossibility, particularly since I couldn’t actually see any of the leaders. As I made for the exit from the rally, I pulled myself up on the stone wall of a building in the hope of getting a better view. Two lads passed me. One, a short young man wearing a dark blue cap, boasted, I gave an interview.” Who to?” The Russian Service of the BBC.” Oh, the Russian Service of the Pee Pee Sea,” his friend mimicked.
Strange-looking people in black, wearing headsets with microphones, were, as if just for their own home video, surreptitiously filming those leaving. Limonov’s supporters began to appear under their banners, but none of those in the front row were the party’s leaders. They were rank-and-file members with armbands, a few of them masked, and some without distinguishing marks of any kind, moving along Brestskaya Street.
I joined this motley crowd of members of an officially banned party. They were chanting Power to the people! Power to the people! Power to the people!” And Putin out! Putin out!” A helicopter hovered above us. Suddenly, our orderly ranks wavered. About fifteen metres ahead I could see clashes. Those in the first ranks carrying banners started fighting back with their flagstaffs at the attacking riot police. Some, as always, tried to run back but others ran forwards into the melee.
They started to crush us. The small group I happened to be with was blocked in and not allowed to move forward or back. I was afraid of a stampede, because I would take the full brunt of it, standing right next to a wall. What’s going on?” I asked the person standing next to me. I have no idea,” he said with an embarrassed smile. He must have been fifty or sixty years old.
I had a feeling that all those who were being blocked in were just the hapless protestors they arrest as criminal elements’ in order to meet some target. Try telling them you were only a bystander! I could imagine the face of my parents if they found out I had been arrested on this march, after our conversation. I tried to persuade myself I didn’t care in the slightest what my parents thought. If you worried about upsetting them and always followed their advice, you would never make your own way, and end up living conventionally. I tried to set all such thoughts aside.
Suddenly there was movement and everybody was running back towards Mayakovsky Square. Behind barriers and the backs of the police, journalists were photographing and recording everything. In order to get clear of the crowd, I moved right over towards the forces of law and order’. Coming round a group of people, I glanced over at the journalists ... Damn! One of them was filming me with a hefty camera perched on his shoulder. I stepped in a puddle with my boots, which until now had been as black as deep, dark caves.
Walking back to Belorussky Station, I took the Metro a couple of stops and was soon home. Russian TV said not a word about what had happened. I turned to Euronews. In a handful of people kettled against a wall by the riot police I glimpsed the top of my hat.

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