The Librarian by Mikhail ElizarovThe Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov

The Librarian

byMikhail ElizarovTranslated byAndrew Bromfield

Paperback | February 10, 2015

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If Ryu Murakami had written War and Peace

As the introduction to this book will tell you, the books by Gromov, obscure and long forgotten propaganda author of the Soviet era, have such an effect on their readers that they suddenly enjoy supernatural powers. Understandably, their readers need to keep accessing these books at all cost and gather into groups around book-bearers, or, as they're called, librarians. Alexei, until now a loser, comes to collect an uncle's inheritance and unexpectedly becomes a librarian. He tells his extraordinary, unbelievable story.
Mikhaïl Elizarov, born 1973 in the Ukraine, studied philology and film direction in Kharkov and worked as a cameraman in the '90s. He then moved to Hanover, Germany to study cinema. In 2001, his first novel Fingernails caught the attention of the media and was shortlisted for the Andrei Bely Prize, and his fourth novel The Librarian wa...
Title:The LibrarianFormat:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.48 × 5.3 × 1.08 inPublished:February 10, 2015Publisher:Steerforth PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1782270272

ISBN - 13:9781782270270

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Read from the Book

And then came the whirlwind, breakneck sequence of bloody events with which my new life began. It all happened literally in seconds. The man who was walking towards us suddenly shuddered and collapsed to his knees, holding one hand to his temple, and beside him the short crowbar that someone had flung out of the darkness landed on the ground with a dull thud. The previous day’s Yeltsinhater, the bald, husky man with the paper bundle, was already beside the driver. He made a stabbing movement and the bundle suddenly buried itself in his adversary’s stomach, so that the paper folded up concertina-wise around the bald man’s fist. He jerked his hand back out, and I saw a long, straight blade. The bald man drove his weapon into the driver’s side for good measure and the driver slumped down, lifeless, onto the ground. The killer deftly wiped down the blade with the crumpled paper. Kolesov manage to run off a couple of metres, but he was overtaken by the false dacha folk. I heard the dull sounds of a struggle. Alik tried to say something, but instead of words he belched out blood. The point of a knitting needle was protruding from his throat. Standing behind him was an elderly woman, the same one who had been knitting on the bench. Alik shuddered and another needle ran through the hand that he was holding over his Adam’s apple. The mechanic appeared, picked up the fallen crowbar and finished off the dying man with a sharp blow to the back of thehead, then informed the elderly woman who had done in red-faced Alik with her needles: “This one’s finished, Margarita Tikhonovna.” Tucking the crowbar into his belt, he gave me a conspiratorial wink and said, “No noise now!” A dark-coloured RAF minibus drove up with its lights off. Two men jumped out of it and started deftly throwing the corpses into the back. The men acted swiftly, in unison. Repeatedly casting anxious glances at me through her glasses, Margarita Tikhonovna whispered: “Quietly now, quietly, everything’s fine, just keep it quiet…” The dacha lady came running up to her. Her vegetable-garden implement turned out to be a short pike. She held out the confiscated book and called in a whisper: “Pal Palych, hurry up.” The man with the moustache dragged over Kolesov, bound and gagged, and flung him crudely into the RAF. The bald man said to Margarita Tikhonovna: “I’ll go with Palych in their car and we’ll follow you.” “No, Igor Valeryevich, you come with us and Pal Palych will manage on his own,” she said, carefully tucking the book into the cuff of her cardigan before adding the command: “Let’s clear out!” Nudging me gently in the back, the bald man moved me onto a side seat in the minibus and perched on the seat beside me. The mechanic and the women also climbed in, the door slammed, and the RAF set off into the darkness. I should say that while the massacre was taking place I stood there without stirring a muscle, as if I had turned to stone, and probably couldn’t have given a shout, even if I had wanted to—I was struck completely dumb by the shock. Scenes flashed in front of my eyes from television reports about bandits who found out about apartment sales from inside informers. If Kolesov himself were not in a rather sorry state, I would haveassumed that he had set everything up, but since we hadn’t signed any documents yet, such behaviour made no sense. Nightmarish questions buzzed around inside my head like an enraged swarm of bees: “Could the bandits really have made a mistake in their haste? What’s going to happen to me? I have been left alive and they haven’t even laid a finger on me. But why, or more to the point, for how long? Until it becomes clear that I don’t have any money and the sale hasn’t taken place?” Kolesov squirmed in his bonds on top of the corpses on the jolting floor of the RAF. It occurred to me that he had every reason to assume that I had set him up, although that also seemed absurd—no one takes the money with him to look at an apartment. Of all the people around me, the mechanic could certainly be taken for a genuine bandit—he had a really brazen face. The bald, husky man, who looked like a butcher from the market, also made a sinister impression. But looking at Margarita Tikhonovna and the dacha lady, it was impossible to believe that these genteel-seeming women had proved to be cold-blooded killers. The elderly woman immediately rebuked the mechanic: “Sanya, have you got any brains at all? If that crowbar had fallen on the asphalt, what a clang it would have made!” The young guy apologized. “Margarita Tikhonovna, honest to God, I was going to throw a mallet at first, but then I suddenly felt afraid—he was such a big, strong brute.” The mechanic prodded the dead man with his foot. “What if it didn’t stun him…” “Don’t scold Sasha,” the dacha lady interceded for her partner in crime. “I think it all went off quite excellently.” “Exactly,” the driver agreed. “Clean as a whistle.” “Tanechka, I know what I’m saying,” Margarita Tikhonovna objected. “And another thing, all of you; I asked you not to mention any names on an assignment! And there you go, like little children, ‘Margarita Tikhonovna’, ‘Pal Palych’…” she said, mocking them. “What did you think you were doing?”The dacha lady and the mechanic smiled guiltily. “Oh, come on now, Margarita Tikhonovna,” the bald man put in, “they were whispering… And you yourself, as it happens, addressed me in full form, name and patronymic, you just didn’t mention my surname,” he laughed. “I’m sorry, Igor Valeryevich, I should be thrown on the scrap heap too,” Margarita Tikhonovna said dejectedly. “But nonetheless, you young people, be more vigilant next time.” The mechanic, who had been sitting there, hanging his head, stopped acting out his contrition and suddenly held his hand out to me. “Alexander Sukharev.” “Alexei Vyazintsev,” I forced out. “Pleased to meet you,” the mechanic said, smiling. He looked about the same age as me, perhaps a little younger. “Well, how are you doing? Your pants are probably filled to overflowing, right?” While I was still pondering my reply to this familiar suggestion, Margarita Tikhonovna rapped the mechanic over the knuckles first. “Stop that, Sasha!” She gave a deep sigh and said in an exceptionally solemn tone of voice, “Alexei… Dear Alexei Vladimirovich, I can only imagine the conclusions you must have drawn from what you have seen. But let me tell you that you are in no danger whatsoever in our company. If only because all of us…”—at these words the mechanic, the dacha lady, bald Igor Valeryevich, the driver and his navigator nodded in unison—“… loved and respected your uncle Maxim Danilovich Vyazintsev… I swear on his cherished memory, we did not wish to frighten you, but unfortunately we could not warn you either. Too much would have had to be explained, you might not have believed us, and the criminals would have escaped unpunished. I hope that in the near future you will be able to make sense of everything for yourself and will not condemn us for this violence. Six months ago these… monsters…”—her voice trembled—“… villainously waylaid and murdered Maxim Danilovich…”The bald man turned over the lifeless Alik (a knitting needle protruded from his throat, running through his hand and holding it in place), threw back the leather flap of the dead man’s jacket and took out a very long awl, as slim as a needle, covered up to the handle with a narrow plastic tube. “There, feast your eyes on that,” he said, turning to me, “just so you won’t have any doubts about these characters. Their own make. They temper them specially in sealing wax—the blade’s as strong as diamond, it’ll pierce anything you like.” “Ooh, the bastards!” said the mechanic Sasha Sukharev. He grabbed Kolesov by the scruff of the neck, shook him a few times and tossed him back onto the dead bodies, throwing in a heavy punch to the kidneys. Kolesov groaned. Margarita Tikhonovna observed this scene without the slightest sign of sympathy, and then mockingly waved the confiscated book under Kolesov’s nose. “Well, then? What’s that your name is? Vadim Leonidovich? How did you make such a mess of things, eh?” Kolesov squirmed in his bonds and his eyes flashed, full of torment and fear. “Now listen carefully. Your informer Shapiro has been detained. And therefore I hope you will be appropriately forthcoming at the interrogation… I can’t guarantee you your life, by the way, but even in the worst-case scenario, you’ll still see Saturday. Is there anything you want to say?” The mechanic Sukharev lifted Kolesov up, ripped the plaster off his mouth and pulled out the brownish, blood-soaked gag. Kolesov gurgled: “I didn’t kill anyone. That’s nothing to do with me… It was Marchenko who gave the orders…” Then the gag stopped his mouth again. “So you are prepared to cooperate?” Margarita Tikhonovna asked severely. “Or… were you killed during arrest? In principle Shapiro is enough for us. What do you think, Igor Valeryevich?”The bald man pressed the confiscated awl to Kolesov’s side and the miserable Vadim Leonidovich started nodding his head rapidly. What else could he do? In his place I would have accepted any conditions too. The mechanic frisked the bodies while the false dacha lady Tanya gazed at me with tenderness in her eyes, then suddenly said: “Alexander Vladimirovich, you behaved quite splendidly, and you are very, very much like Maxim Danilovich…” “Very true,” said the driver, turning round for a moment. “I noticed that too. The same face.” “I can hardly believe it,” said the navigator. “A dead ringer for his uncle…” “Alexei Vladimirovich,” said Margarita Tikhonovna, touching my knee cautiously, “I realize that you are perturbed and shocked. If you wish to collect your thoughts, please, do not speak. Rest and recover your equilibrium.” In fact I had a lot of questions. What did they kill Uncle Maxim for? Who are these people who supposedly killed him? And finally, most important of all: what’s going to happen to me? However, complying with Margarita Tikhonovna’s categorical proposition, I spent the rest of the journey looking out through the black window at the agitated cardiogram of roadside lights. Along the way they discussed where to take me. Margarita Tikhonovna urged me to come to her place, but bald Igor Valeryevich insisted that his place was better, since Margarita Tikhonovna’s address might be known to the foe. This argument proved decisive and the RAF swerved off the lit street and wound its way between faceless buildings of precast concrete panels—it turned out that Igor Valeryevich lived somewhere around here. At the entrance to the building the company divided. The driver and his navigator, having been instructed to guard Kolesov, immediately drove off with their dead cargo.

Editorial Reviews

"Elizarov's novel, winner of the 2008 Russian Booker Prize, is a satire about the absurdity of blind faith and the way people fool themselves into believing in systems in which they are forced to inhabit… this chaotic tale puts a magical twist on its satire." --Publishers Weekly"[A] brilliant winner of the Russian Booker Prize.... Immensely entertaining, The Librarian lives up to comparisons to the work of Gogol and Bulgakov while being very much its own thing." — Jeff VanderMeer, Slate"The Librarian reads like cold fire, full of Russian stoicism, honor and intense formality, but the rhythm of the words is hypnotic." —Luke Goldstein, Blogcritics "By turns absurdist, satirical, and downright funny: The Librarian takes a page from every book. . . The Librarian is original, delightfully weird and dark, and so frequently funny, this book will have no problem conscripting new English readers." — Asymptote"Powerful, disturbing, and at the same time, uplifting." — Vzgliad"A truly bright author and an ingenious writer." — Vladimir Sorokin, author of Ice Trilogy and Day of the Oprichnik"The most radical of Russian Booker winners." —"Elizarov is an heir to the classic Russian writers." —"Uncompromising, bizarre and desperate." —"How words can be more dangerous than machine-guns." —"A world of myths... and a requiem for a broken country." — Questions of Literature