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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Anatoly Mariengof

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Cynics (in Glas 1)

Title: Cynics
Author: Anatoly Mariengof
Genre: Novel
Written: 1928 (Eng. 1991)
Length: 114 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: in Glas 1 - US
in Glas 1 - UK
in Glas 1 - Canada
Les cyniques - France
in Der rasierte Mann und Zyniker - Deutschland
  • Russian title: Циники
  • Translated by Andrew Bromfield (1991)
  • This edition published as part of Glas 1
  • Previously published in an English translation by Valdemar D. Bell and Louis Coleman (1930)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp, staccato-style novel of revolutionary Russia

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Republic . 1/10/1930 James Rorty
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/9/1930 Alexander Nazaroff

  From the Reviews:
  • "Cynics is certainly a befitting title for this work. (...) Marienhoff writes in short, laconic scenes and excerpts which often are witty, sharp and expressive, and -- equally often -- strewn with filthy details and pretentious mannerisms." - Alexander Nazaroff, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Anatoly Mariengof's short novel Cynics is a thrilling account of social breakdown among the stylish classes after the Revolution, by a writer captivated by the new business of cinema." - Lesley Chamberlain, Prospect (5/1996)

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:

       Cynics is set between 1918 and 1924, the narrator Vladimir describing life in revolution-torn Russia. The book is divided into chapters, each devoted to a year, which are then further divided into generally very brief numbered sections. Each presents a different episode or, often, a glimpse of the larger events going on around him, like newspaper headlines ("The Czechs have taken Samara" is a typical concise example).
       Vladimir's partner is Olga, the two of them making their way as best they can through the times. They're used to living in some style, but adapt to the changing circumstances as best they can, muddling through the revolution without taking anything too seriously:

     "I thought the first thing they would do would be to set up a guillotine on the execution site in Red Square."
     Yellow fluff is falling from the slender, round-headed lime-trees.
     "And instead of that our Convention, or whatever it's called, forbids the sale of ice-cream."
       They're not exactly enthusiastic -- or at least brutally honest: when Olga says she's beginning to "catch the scent of the revolution quite sharply and distinctly" Vladimir agrees:
     "I can catch its scent too, Olga. Ever since the day the drains in our house stopped working properly."
       The collapse of the established order brings with it many day-to-day consequences, with the non-functioning plumbing among the least of it. Living quarters, heating material, and, above all, food can be hard to come by. These are the years of famine, and Mariengof offers frequent reminders of the extremes the population was forced to go to, interspersing the text with numerous examples of cannibalism, for example. The conditions get progressively worse, the terse reports -- "All the grain crops have failed", "The peasants have begun eating gophers" -- making for an almost surreal backdrop.
       Despite it being such a time of need, it was also a decadent age, and Vladimir and Olga's circle was certainly, as the title suggests, a cynical one. Lines were not yet clearly marked, class enemies reviled but still with some power (and money) that allowed them to play an influential and corrupting role. Olga is the more flexible one, adapting to the times and doing what needs be done: her cynical attitude making the compromises bearable. She has few illusions, and understands much more clearly than Vladimir what is happening -- sharply observing, for example, what he is blind to: "That the revolution is giving birth to a new bourgeoisie."
       Vladimir goes along as best he can, but the romantic-poet soul isn't quite as hardened, and he still indulges in introspection:
     I stand quite motionless. I am thinking about myself, about Russians and Russia. I hate my blood, my sky, my land, my present, my past
       There's not that much 'story' here, and yet in the various glimpses of their day-to-day lives, and the many mentions of what is happening across Russia Cynics is a compelling novella of and clear-eyed look at Russia's revolution. Hardly (overtly) political, more concerned with effect than cause, Mariengof's account is a devastating one -- and it says something about the then still possible paths for the Soviet Union that it could be published there in the late 1920s. (Needless to say, the path the Soviet Union went down meant that soon enough the book was deemed completely unacceptable.)
       Cynics is also a love story: Olga and Vladimir don't have the most conventional of relationships, but ultimately they are devoted to one another. The final section and sentence, the final summing-up, -- "It was as though nothing on earth had happened" -- effectively ties together and brings to a conclusion the enormous historical survey and the very personal love story; it is arguably among the most powerful last sentences in a twentieth-century work of fiction.
       In part -- or rather: in it's many small parts -- Cynics can feel more like a collage than a novel. The story jerks and jumps, the characters aren't closely described, history moives by in a blur. Yet it's an effective technique, making for a successful if not always appealing novel of the revolution.

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Cynics: Reviews: Other books by Anatoly Mariengof under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet author Anatoly Mariengof (Анатолий Мариенгоф, Anatoli Marienhoff) lived 1897 to 1962.

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© 2006-2012 the complete review

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