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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Maya Pill

German Sadulaev

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To purchase The Maya Pill

Title: The Maya Pill
Author: German Sadulaev
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 297 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Maya Pill - US
The Maya Pill - UK
The Maya Pill - Canada
The Maya Pill - India
  • Russian title: Таблетка
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Carol Apollonio

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Our Assessment:

B+ : maybe stuffs a bit too much in, but a lot of fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 26/3/2014 Lucy Popescu
Коммерсантъ . 14/7/2008 Анна Наринская
Прочтение . 10/6/2009 Андрей Степанов

  From the Reviews:
  • "His postmodern tale is a challenging, sometimes frustrating, read, but there are patterns in the chaos and at various times the reader's perseverance is richly rewarded. (...) The Maya Pill is a potent mix of political satire and meditations on Russia's past, interspersed with vignettes about office and pop culture, mock treatises on Russian history, and meta-fictional asides." - Lucy Popescu, The Independent

  • "Но перед тем как предъявить нам то, что там внутри, Герман Садулаев совершает необходимые ритуально-революционные танцы с подобающими ироническими коленцами" - Анна Наринская, Коммерсантъ

  • "Первое впечатление от этой книги такое: Пелевин + Минаев = Садулаев." - Андрей Степанов, Прочтение

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:

       In her Afterword Carol Apollonio defends the choice of English titles for Таблетка ('tablet', as in 'pill'), suggesting the more literal ones would have sent the: "English-language reader down a garden path of irrelevancies", the connotations -- which apparently range from birth-control pill to notepads and the Ten Commandments (really ?) -- just too confusing; as someone who kept waiting for the Guatemalan connection to be revealed, I'm not sure The Maya Pill was the way to go either. But then this is a novel that throws its protagonist (and/or author) for several loops, and it's fitting enough that readers are off-balance from the start as well.
       The central character in the novel is:

     Maximus Semipyatnitsky. Descendent of the ancient Khazar race, heir of the Great Khagans. Writer of genius. And leading specialist in the Import Department of Cold Plus Company. Though the latter is nothing more than an embarrassing stumble along my world-historical path.
       Stumble or not, his middle management position at Cold Plus, his nine-to-five job, is a defining part of him. Sure, he dabbles in writing -- but even minor success there hardly permits him to focus on that. Of course, his day job isn't exactly what he had in mind at this point in his life either:
     My job title is Leading Specialist. That's a great jumping-off place for a career if you're twenty-five. For a man of thirty-five, it's the kiss of death, a complete dead end.
     I am thirty-five.
       The Maya Pill is, in part, a workplace/industrial novel, and the workplace scenes and explanations are actually among the most accomplished parts. This frozen food conglomerate is a huge organization, and Maximus deals with customers and suppliers from the Netherlands to China, all part of a huge food-shipping and processing enterprise that's part of what makes the world go round -- in its very strange orbits. As Maximus suggests to himself (and this makes a bit more sense in the novel's more elaborate contexts), in trying to explain the unusual ways in which some things work:
the world is made in China, and our conceptions of the world are made in Holland.
       The workplace setting also provides the premise for the novel's main story, as the Dutch have mistakenly shipped a box to St.Petersburg which they are very, very eager to retrieve. Suspiciously eager, Maximus finds, leading him to look into it -- and into the box, which conveniently was damaged in handling. What he finds are pills -- and these pills have some pretty extraordinary properties, allowing Maximus to enter the minds of, for example, both his Dutch and Chinese counterparts. They also help him get in touch with his Khazar roots (and it turns out the lost great race of the Khazars also have something to do with the pills, an earlier variation of which they had discovered).
       In fact, however, The Maya Pill starts off with something completely different, the devil himself -- a recurring figure in the novel -- coming to bargain for souls, with his deal with Britney Spears (how do you think she became a star ?) the tour de force opening scene. Maximus too is tempted by the devil -- who has a very good spiel -- but he's not quite as easy as Britney ..... Not quite, anyway.
       The Maya Pill careens from its devilish opening ("Bald Britney Spears writhed hysterically, slashed her veins, twisted her hospital bedding into a rope, and attempted to hang herself") to frustrated-writer tale to workplace novel, with repeated detours back in time to the glory-days of the Khazars and the "mythological, nonexistent land" of Khazaria, "a country that might never have actually existed". While Sadulaev milks these magic pills and their beyond-hallucinatory powers for a lot of fictional fun, the novel's particular strength is that much of it stays grounded. From Maximus' lesson to the visiting Dutchman about paying for sex to the bureaucracy of Cold Plus, Sadulaev's vision isn't lazily fantastical (as Sorokin's sometimes gets) but rather much more convincing.
       There are a lot of layers here -- including Maximus' own literary efforts (and the lurking Mephistophelian presence -- that's pure fantasy, but, damn, he does that well, too) -- and the narrative can sag under parts of it. For the most part, however, it's a hell of a ride.
       Sadulaev is self-aware too -- though the meta-fictional asides are thankfully kept largely in check -- suggesting:
     First Pelevin, now this Herbalife devil, it's like something out of Bulgakov ... what next ? Gogol ? Quite the eclectic mix. Or, as they say these days, fusion. Yes, Maximus, your life is profoundly derivative -- you can find every detail in Franz Kafka
       Perhaps pulled into a few too many directions, The Maya Pill is nevertheless rip-roaring fun -- both because Sadulaev has some good (and wild) ideas and because he writes damn well. A bookstore browser who picks a page at random might get the wrong impression (certainly the opening scene is anything but representative of much of what comes later). Turn ahead a few pages and the impression will likely be an entirely different one, as this is a novel that twists in a lot of different directions. Don't be put off by the (somewhat -- explanations are there) confusing title, or my descriptions (broad outlines that they are) of what the novel is 'about': this is good stuff (whatever it is ...); plunge in and enjoy the trip.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 January 2014

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The Maya Pill: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author German Sadulaev (Герман Умаралиевич Садулаев) was born in 1973.

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