German Sadulaev’s novel The Maya Pill, a follow-up to his acclaimed I am a Chechen!, is a biting contemporary satire focused on a classical Russian theme of a modest individual’s quest for his spiritual identity. But it’s approached in a twenty-first century bizarre style, when Sadulaev’s protagonist comes across a medicine that seems to make everyone happy – but is this the right way?
A short excerpt from the novel presents the author’s unusual view on the “mystery of Russian soul”.
Maximus took a shower, boiled himself four eggs for breakfast (lunch?), and decided to take a drive. Somewhere, anywhere. One of his magazines had an article in it about an archaeological site, a three- or four-hour drive away. Though of course he had to figure out where he’d left the car.
Maximus dressed, went out, and hailed a taxi heading down¬town. He found the car right where he had left it the night be¬fore, near the Tribunal. Untouched by thieves, hooligans, or the tow truck. A good omen. And Semipyatnitsky headed north.
It’s only on the map that we’re one big united country, all one color. But the land isn’t a map, it’s forests and rivers, fields and ravines. And for one place to be united with another, you need a road.
Centuries ago people on the flatlands settled along rivers, mostly because the rivers served as highways linking one world to another. You can’t get far traveling through the great slumbering forest or across the vast empty steppe, especially if you’re hauling goods for trade. The Varangians, those bandits and traders who founded the Russian state, had traveled by river, if you buy that theory about the Norse origins of Rus, that is.
Semipyatnitsky had no intention of going all the way to Murmansk. His destination was the village of Staraya Ladoga, Russia’s first capital, the place where the Varangians had begun their expansion onto the Central European highlands. He want¬ed to see that landscape for himself, to feel what those energetic Norse adventurers had felt so long ago. To unwind the scroll of the country’s history back to zero. To understand how and why things had turned out the way they had. The road was long. Nothing on either side. Semipyatnitsky recalled a phrase from a guidebook for tourists: “Some ten per-cent of Russian territory is densely populated; twenty percent is relatively civilized, and seventy percent is virgin land.” Tselina, in Russian. The land is a young girl. A virgin, you say? But what if she’s an embittered widow, an old trollop?