“A terrifyingly original writer, José Manuel Prieto’s prose shakes the walls of the literary kingdom.” Gary Shteyngart
In Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia,
José Manuel Prieto has beautifully crafted a kaleidoscopic portrait of modern life in Russia
through alphabetical encyclopedic entries. Poetic, humorous, truth-seeking, and fanciful, Prieto melds literature, philosophy, and pop culture into a story of two misfits caught between old traditions and modern consumerism.
Thelonius Monk (not his real name) travels to Russia
and meets Linda Evangelista (not her real name) in Saint Petersburg
. They journey to Yalta
, where he promises that he will make her red hair famous in the fashion magazines. In fact, he’s drafting a novel about herhis notes for the novel comprise this Encyclopedia
. Thelonious and Linda think of themselves as avatars of consumer culture, navigating the border between art and commerce during the Soviet Union
’s collapse in 1991. Unwittingly they parody Russian fascination with America
and its fixation on beauty and celebrity. Their conversations combine advertisement copy and art criticism, their personalities are both bohemian and commercial, and their aspirations revolve around frivolity and enchantment. Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia
is a novel that defies chronology and conformity, and finds the sublime in the trivial, ranging from meditations on Bach and Dostoyevsky to Italian alligator shoes and toothpaste.