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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Faint-hearted Bolshevik

Lorenzo Silva

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To purchase The Faint-hearted Bolshevik

Title: The Faint-hearted Bolshevik
Author: Lorenzo Silva
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Faint-hearted Bolshevik - US
La flaqueza del bolchevique - US
The Faint-hearted Bolshevik - UK
The Faint-hearted Bolshevik - Canada
The Faint-hearted Bolshevik - India
Le chagrin du bolchevik - France
La flaqueza del bolchevique - España
  • Spanish title: La flaqueza del bolchevique
  • Translated by Nick Caistor and Isabelle Kaufeler
  • La flaqueza del bolchevique was made into a film in 2003, directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca and starring Luis Tosar and María Valverde

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Our Assessment:

B : appealingly surprising story of strong passions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 27/2/2015 Julius Purcell

  From the Reviews:
  • "By blending spat-out obscenities with reflections on Kant and Kafka, he has created a horribly engaging first-person voice: an intelligent, cultured man, coarsened by a lifetime of slights. (...) Definitely not for the faint-hearted." - Julius Purcell, Financial Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of The Faint-hearted Bolshevik really dislikes Mondays, and the Monday he begins his story with is worse than most. Distracted for a moment, he rear-ends a car in the morning traffic jam. He acknowledges it's his fault, but the woman whose car he hit really gets on his nerves and he decides to teach her a lesson -- and by doing so, as he already admits at the outset: "I managed to turn a simple traffic accident into a hell of a downfall".
       The narrator is an apparently successful banker but he's not a happy guy, the grind of work and modern life really, really getting to him. (He reveals that among his: "carefully hidden personality traits" is that of "enemy of ecology. I also hate pedagogy, liberal capitalism and sports".) He's also not above expending way more effort than it would seem to be worth to make the life of Sonsoles -- the woman whose car he hit -- hell.
       Very quickly, The Faint-hearted Bolshevik is well on its way to being a creative revenge-fantasy novel, the narrator:

messing around with Sonsoles in the same way I might have grabbed a handful of silkworms and roasted them in a teaspoon over a Bunsen burner to while away the time.
       He definitely goes out of his way to mess with her (and her family's) lives, but he's also quite clever and creative in how he goes about it. It makes for some creepy but largely harmless (and quite amusing) fun.
       Sonsoles still lives with her parents, and she seems to have a good government job. She has five siblings -- but only one also still lives at home, the fifteen-year-old Rosana. It's when the narrator sees Rosana that his world is thrown upside down: he falls head over heels for her, and his project (and the novel) veer off into an entirely different direction. He no longer cares about making Sonsoles' life miserable; instead, he sets his eyes on a different sort of conquest.
       Succumbing to love was not something he ever had in mind. By falling in love he was:
betraying all my principles and ignoring the overwhelming teachings of a life of disappointment and lesson-learning.
       Yes, he's a rather hardened cynic -- but still he succumbs. Again, however, he goes about it rather carefully and cleverly, not tipping his hand (not too much, anyway) and still thinking quickly on his feet as he begins his game of seduction.
       The Faint-hearted Bolshevik is far-removed from any sort of sleazy novel reveling in a man in his thirties drooling over a fifteen year-old girl; aside from that premise (which even the narrator is a bit unsettled by), there's nothing very sleazy to it, or to what happens.
       As has already become clear, the narrator is something of a philosopher -- of darker, nihilistic shades, perhaps, but still always tempted to wax philosophical. He's cynical about that almost romantic edge to his thinking (and wise-thoughts-spouting): when Rosana asks him whether he is a philosopher he tells her: "No, just the opposite. I work in a bank". He admits he wrote his thesis on Leibniz, but when Rosana doesn't recognize the name he tells her he's:
     Nobody. He's much less important than James Dean, for example. If anyone ever talks to you about Leibniz, you can forget it. Knowing who he is won't be at all useful. It's not done me any good.
       Bitter though he is, his banter appeals to the young woman, enjoying an adventure that would seem to offer a safe way to explore some of the mysteries of adulthood -- this man seems to take her seriously, even as she understands the nature of her appeal to him -- allowing for a small step towards maturity, from which she can (so she imagines ...) also always step back.
       Toying with each other, they establish a good rapport, each finding in the other something missing from their lives. The life-lesson they wind up getting turns out to be an entirely different one, however, as Silva offers one final (and certainly unexpected) twist to their story.
       At heart -- no matter how hardened -- the narrator is a romantic; hence also he succumbs to love. Yes, there's that unpleasant lecherous side to him -- he can barely stand watching TV except for a few sports programs, as: "female skaters and gymnasts are one of the few things in life which justify my getting out of bed each day" -- but there's also a nostalgic-romantic side to him. So, for example, he has kept a photograph of Nicholas II's four daughters (the picture they use on some of the editions of this novel is this one) on his desk for years, and continues to be moved by their story and tragedy. In particular, he imagines the Bolshevik muzhik who was party to Grand Duchess Anastasia's murder, and the memories of what he did and of her that he then carried with him -- and the narrator sees himself like that 'faint-hearted Bolshevik'.
       The Faint-hearted Bolshevik is a quick, surprising read, moving from great (superficial) vulgarity to unexpected refinement. There is a bit too little character-development allowing readers to understand how the narrator became the man he is -- possibly something lost not so much in the literal but rather the cultural translation, as perhaps much of how he (and his environment) are presented is in a shorthand adequate for Spanish readers to relate to (i.e. a lot of type-casting, of types entirely familiar to local readers but less so, twenty years later, to those in a different culture).
       A bit too breezy in its telling for such a weighty tale -- yes, it's far more philosophical than erotic -- The Faint-hearted Bolshevik is still a nice little piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 December 2013

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The Faint-hearted Bolshevik: Reviews: The Weakness of the Bolshevik - the film: Lorenzo Silva: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Spanish literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Lorenzo Silva was born in 1966.

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© 2013-2015 the complete review

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