Completed 2/26/2018, Reviewed 2/28/2018
When I think of satire, I usually think of something that has humor in it. This book is a satire, but has very little humor. It projects a future where the majority of people in the world are homosexual, and only about 10% are heterosexual. These 10% are persecuted as deviants, a danger to society. History and even literature is rewritten to represent the homosexual majority. It’s a terrific book, but hard to read at times. It takes all our current experience of oppression of gays and lesbians and turns it on its head.
The book is translated from Russian. It’s the first translation from Russian I’ve read that I was able to follow well. In fact, it’s the first translation I’ve read in a long while that was fairly easy to read. The book takes place in the US, and all the names of the main characters are American. This is different from books that take place in Russia where everybody seems to have nine names.
The plot is fairly straight-forward. No pun intended. It follows Robert Marcus, a heterosexual who has a clandestine affair with Liza. They hide from authorities by feigning marriage to the same gendered persons of another couple. All four live in a two family house. At night, they secretly change rooms to sleep their lovers while carrying on as homosexual couples during the day. Normal reproduction is also illegal, but the couples pretend to have artificially inseminated children, the boy being raised by the men and the girl being raised by the women. After a while Liza leaves this arrangement. Robert tries to make a go of converting to being homosexual to make life easier for himself. He meets an older man who dies in his bed. Robert is accused of murder, confirming that heterosexuals are a menace to society. The rest of the book follows Robert in a riveting 1984-Kafkaesque experience.
Everything about this book is done pretty well, the plot, the characters. The one thing I found hard to take in the story, though, was that in the relationships, for both gays and lesbians, there was a “husband” and a “wife”. I found this rather odd, unless that is the experience of the author in Russia, that couples have roles like straight couples. I also thought that maybe this was part of the satire; it was hard to tell.
Another thing was that the only character that is well developed is Marcus. He’s the narrator, but still, I would have liked to have seen Liza fleshed out a little better. There is a part of her that is rather “wifey” in the sense that she’s not a strong person, relying on the men in her life to tell her what to do. Again, that may be part of the satirical effect, the woman being weaker than the man. It is hard to tell.
Politically, I’d give this book five stars for what it attempts and accomplishes. However, as an overall enjoyment experience, I’d have to give this book four stars. While I was pretty gripped to the story, I wasn’t really emotionally involved enough, which is my requirement for giving five stars. But if you like Kafka’s “The Trial” and Terry Gilliam’s film “Brasil”, this is definitely the book for you.
One thing I should also note is that this book has a sequel. However, I don’t think it has been published in English yet. I did searches and didn’t find anything indicating that the author has published it at all. So if you read it, be prepared for a cliff hanger that’s not going to be resolved any time soon.