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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Blue Lard

Vladimir Sorokin

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To purchase Blue Lard

Title: Blue Lard
Author: Vladimir Sorokin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 354 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Blue Lard - US
Blue Lard - UK
Blue Lard - Canada
Le lard bleu - France
Der himmelblaue Speck - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Russian title: Голубое сало
  • Translated and with an afterword by Max Lawton

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Our Assessment:

B : off the charts inventive -- and in quite a few other ways as well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 15/3/2024 Courtney Weaver
FAZ . 11/12/2000 Maren Jungclaus
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/2/2024 Dustin Illingworth
Le Temps . 24/2/2007 Laurent Nicolet
Die Zeit . 9/11/2000 H.-P. Kunisch

  From the Reviews:
  • "From a translation perspective, Blue Lard presents a task almost as fiendish as its subject matter. (...) Some of Blue Lard’s linguistic flourishes, references and humour lose their punch in translation. But Lawton does a mighty job regardless, with a work that still leaves the reader with the same assault on the senses as Sorokin’s original -- and the strong desire to take a shower afterwards." - Courtney Weaver, Financial Times

  • "(E)ine alternative Zeitgeschichte, wobei Machthaber und Geistesgrößen des vorigen Jahrhunderts in grotesken Szenen vorgeführt werden. Die Spiegelszene am Ende des Romans erlöst den Leser nicht aus seiner Verwirrung, verweist aber auf das poetologische Programm: Es geht um Doppelgänger und Ähnlichkeiten, Spiegelungen, Klone, Imitate. (...) Vladimir Sorokin schickt den Leser mit diesem vielschichtigen Roman auf eine phantastische Reise voller Abgründe in die Vergangenheit und Zukunft und entfaltet die enorme Bildlichkeit seiner Sprache in diesem literarischen Karneval." - Maren Jungclaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Like much of Sorokin’s fiction, the plot of Blue Lard sloughs easily from the mystical, barbarous structure hidden within it. Intelligibility is beside the point, continuity an almost reactionary concern. What lingers is the uncanny image, the metafictional gambit, the joyful depravity, the sense of convention foreclosed. (...) Russian literature is rotting, Khrushchev says in a postcoital conversation with Stalin. Blue Lard responds to that rot, not by way of condemnation, but with its shocking excess, its aberrant novelty, its alien menagerie and its fierce, metastasizing energy. It is an ablution for readers mired in the lukewarm mud of realism, nothing less than a deep, astringent cleansing." - Dustin Illingworth, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Une farce énorme, invraisemblable, où tout est passé à la moulinette du sacrilège, la langue, l'histoire, la littérature, tout ce qui, à force d'être ressassé et digéré, finit par perdre toute saveur et d'abord celle de la vérité." - Laurent Nicolet, Le Temps

  • "Es geht bei der geschichtsverändernden Potenz des von Dichtern produzierten himmelblauen Specks um die staubige Diskussion, ob Literatur den Weltenlauf beeinflussen kann. Sicher, es geht in der Frage nach dem Zusammenhang von Erdrammlern und Zügen darum, die grotesken Ausreden für Misserfolge im Sowjetkommunismus zu persiflieren. Und sicher: Sorokin, der Selbstkopist und Verfälscher, macht mit seinem literarischen Verfahren des Klonens von Klonen das Problem der Originalität auf amüsante Weise klar. Aber zu einem kleinen Problem der Sorokinschen Witzmaschinerie wird in diesem neuen Roman, dass sie sich so gar nicht darum schert, ihre durchaus vorhandenen Inhalte, Themen rüberzubringen. Kaum hat Sorokin eine seiner bizarren Sprachrammelfantasien losgeschickt, ist schon der nächste, noch prächtigere Sprachrammelfeuerwerkskörper dran, und man ist beinahe versucht zu sagen: Da verpufft was." - Hans-Peter Kunisch, Die Zeit

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 'blue' lard' of the title is "LW-type matter" -- a 'superinsulator', meaning that it is: "Matter the entropy of which is always equal to zero". This property makes it ideal for the construction of a "constant energy reactor" -- perpetual energy -- and that is what it is being harvested for, around 2068; the plan is to build a reactor on the moon. Such a concept is fairly usual science fiction fare -- but how Vladimir Sorokin imagines blue lard comes into being and is harvested certainly isn't: after two failed efforts, BL-3 is on the right track, with 'reconstructs' -- clones -- of famous Rusian writers producing the substance as they scribble away, it accumulating mostly on the tender part of their backs, as it turns out that: "only those people who had at some point written down their fantasies on paper turned out to be capable of producing blue lard".
       The novel opens in cold Siberia, where Boris writes letters reporting on how the project is going. The clones aren't perfect likenesses -- Nabokov-7 rates an 89 per cent correspondence, but Chekhov-3 is only at 76 ("One defect is the lack of a stomach").
       Boris writes from a strongly Sinicized Russia -- "Everything is working out for the Chinese now, just as it did for the Americans in the twentieth century, the French in the nineteenth, the English in the eighteenth", etc. --, which is also reflected in the language in his conversation and letters, filled with Chinese words and expressions. The novel comes with a Glossary of Chinese words and phrases (as well as one of 'Other words and expressions'), but can still be heady going, as when Boris describes some of his colleagues:

     Without reference to L-harmony, Kir is a simple shagua who stuck his skinny zuan kong tchi right into fashionable HERO-KUNST. Daisy is a laobaixing who went straight from Pskov to the ART-mei chaun in Petersburg. She's not even able to support an elementary tanhua
       (As translator Lawton helpfully (?) notes in his afterword ('An Extroduction'): "The book is built around incomprehension to such an extent that not even Vladimir knows what the ample neologisms that pepper the epistolary section mean, the book's glossary offering no definitions of any real utility" .....)
       The blue lard premise does also allow Sorokin to have some pastiche-fun, as he presents samples of what the cloned scribblers produce in the process of excreting the invaluable substance -- poetry by Akhmatova-2 and Pasternak-1, "a dramatic étude in one act" by Chekhov-3, and so on. They're a bit hit or miss -- yes, even the text that comes in at: "79% L-harmony on the Witte scale" -- but Sorokin shows a decent ear and considerable flair, and it makes for good literary divertissement.
       But Blue Lard doesn't offer just a futuristic vision, as Sorokin also takes his story back to 1954, to a slightly altered past in which the Germans fared better in World War II (and London got nuked, in a: "joint Soviet-German atomic strike on England"). After two previous failed attempts, in 1908 and 1937, "Russians of the third millennium" have finally been able to make contact: "a sect of people who ran away from civilization in order to fuck Siberian earth have sent those of us living in 1954 a piece of ice" (the ice being basically packing material -- "there's definitely something there. They wouldn't have sent us mere ice").
       The familiar Stalin is the Soviet leader, while Krushchev is a hunchbacked count whose hobby is physical (but bloodless) torture; notoriously, Sorokin also describes, at some length, the two having sex ("The count's cock had entirely entered into Stalin's anus", etc.). Eventually Stalin also travels, with his family as well as Krushchev, to pay a friendly visit to Hitler at his Berghof; Göring, Bormann, and Leni Riefenstahl, among others, are also in attendance, with Riefenstahl "obsessed with Russia these days", and looking for the proper take to make a film about it. Sorokin also continues with pastiche-games, including presenting the beginning of a play by Konstantin Simonov, A Glass of Russian Blood printed in Novy Mir (which the historical Simonov was editor of); "A very strange play", Stalin's wife notes -- but: "maybe it turns into something else at the end ...", she hopes.
       Blue Lard is also strange, and elusive, shifting as it proceeds through its strange turns (though it does return, in its conclusion, again to the blue lard-substance, as Stalin is confronted with some of its possibilities ...). Deeply Russian -- rooted both in Russian history and, especially, its literature -- much that Sorokin refers and alludes to likely is missed by most readers, but the satire is sharp enough, and the story simply so wildly inventive that it holds interest throughout -- even if, at times, perhaps only to see what else Sorokin can come up with (and he always comes up with something, though it's something of a splatter, all over the place).
       Lawton suggests in his afterword that: "You don't need to understand Blue Lard. [...] Let the images and words flow past -- do not seek to add unnecessary meaning to them". That can be a tall order for some readers; certainly, Blue Lard won't be everyone's cuppa. But it is in many ways a rich, fascinating text, offering not exactly the usual reading rewards, but rather some unusual ones that are also worth your while (and effort).

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 February 2024

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Blue Lard: Reviews: Vladimir Sorokin: Other books by Vladimir Sorokin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Vladimir Sorokin (Владимир Сорокин) was born in 1955.

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© 2024 the complete review

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