In 1990s Russia, the wife and stepdaughter of a paralyzed veteran conceal the Soviet Union’s collapse from him in order to keep him—and his pension—alive.
Olga Slavnikova’s The Man Who Couldn’t Die tells the story of how two women try to prolong a life—and the means and meaning of their own lives—by creating a world that doesn’t change, a Soviet Union that never crumbled.
After her stepfather’s stroke, Marina hangs Brezhnev’s portrait on the wall, edits the Pravda articles read to him, and uses her media connections to cobble together entire newscasts of events that never happened. Meanwhile, her mother, Nina Alexandrovna, can barely navigate the bewildering new world outside, especially in comparison to the blunt reality of her uncommunicative husband. As Marina is caught up in a local election campaign that gets out of hand, Nina discovers that her husband is conspiring as well—to kill himself and put an end to the charade.
Masterfully translated by Marian Schwartz, The Man Who Couldn’t Die is a darkly playful vision of the lost Soviet past and the madness of the post-Soviet world that uses Russia’s modern history as a backdrop for an inquiry into larger metaphysical questions.
“Darkly sardonic…oddly timely, for there are all sorts of understated hints about voter fraud, graft, payoffs, and the endless promises of politicians who have no intention of keeping them…. Slavnikova is a writer American readers will want to have more of.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A funhouse mirror worth looking into, especially in today’s United States with its alternative facts, unpoetic assertions, and morbid relationship with the past.”—Leeore Schnairsohn, Los Angeles Review of Books