“the sacred book of the werewolf” by victor pelevin
this is a very weird book. i’d been hearing pelevin (russian, b. 1962) called one of the most important “post soviet” voices for a while. then i read a (not very well-written) review in the new york times, prompting me to get this novel, more out of curiosity, than a desire to actually read it.
it’s narrated by A Hu-Li, a mythological chinese fox-woman who, though thousands of years old, lives as a teenage prostitute in moscow. werefoxes, though they eat “ordinary food (fairly close to the atkins diet)” also assimilate “the human sexual energy that is released during the act of love — whether real or imaginary. and while ordinary food simply maintains the chemical equilibrium of our bodies, sexual energy is like our most important vitamin, the one that makes us enchanting and eternally youthful.” “is that vampirism?” she asks. “we simply pick up what the irrational human being carelessly discards.” though a prostitute, A Hu-Li has managed to remain a virgin lo these many centuries since a fox can create illusion with her tail, making “tailless monkeys” believe she is engaging in their deepest fantasies. illusion turns out to be the cornerstone of the novel.
“the sacred book” looks, as it begins, like social satire in the tradition of bulgakov’s “master and margarita.” and it is. but it also turns out to be a finely-tuned philosophical discourse narrating in “as many as five inner voices.” “they can start to argue with each other over anything at all,” our heroine confides, “i don’t get involved in the argument, i just listen and wait for a hint at the right answer.”
A Hu-Li is a gorgeously rendered character who eventually meets the sullen and very, very good-looking alexander, of whom she notes “there used to be a lot of faces like that in the old days, when people believed in love and god, and then that type almost disappeared.” alexander is, of course, a werewolf and he and our lolita-like heroine engage in imaginative forms of “tailechery,” though their sexual relationship consists primarily of intertwining their magical tails… ok, now do you believe me when i tell you this is a very, very weird book?
it’s also a very, very good book. delightful and dark and insightful. well-written and engaging. reading “master and margarita,” i knew i was missing the most subtle and brilliant references. same here. but the ones you do get are fantastic. this isn’t a novel to miss.
all artworks are by kiev-born artist, yelena yemchuck.