Review: DAY OF THE OPRICHNIK by Vladimir Sorokin (trans. Jamey Gambrell) (2012)

Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2012
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger Warning: gang rape, violence, state-sanctioned terrorism, drug use, a fish swimming up one’s veins into their brain, literal book burning, state censorship, beheaded dogs

Andrei Komiaga, our protagonist, is the fourth-highest ranking member of the oprichnina in a future version of Russia that’s a blend of Ivan the Terrible’s reign with Vladimir Putin’s current policies. We follow a day in Komiaga’s life which involves terrorizing aristocrats, censoring literature, bribery, and not one but two rituals with his fellow officers.

Disturbing, intense, and brilliant, this is one of those books where if the Wikipedia summary is enough to make you not approach this one, I do not blame you.

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Review: AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK by David Diop (2018)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2018
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: gore, violence, murder, trauma, PTSD

Alfa Ndiaye is a Senegalese man and a soldier with the French army during World War I. His more-than-brother, Medemba Diop, begs for death, but Alfa can’t do it. This haunts. What follows is an exploration of trauma and violence and a twist that made me press the book against my face and yell.

This book is hypnotic and another adventure in “the less you know going in, the better.” Like a lot of books that are considered literary fiction, not a lot happens. The event of Alfa failing to mercy kill Mademba takes place both on- and off-screen. There’s no plot, there’s just a lot of processing. There’s also an overt sexual overtone to the seduction of war and the emergent forced proximity that’s appropriately uncomfortable.

It’s brutal and unflinching in places, so if up-close descriptions of violence and dehumanization of enemies and allies isn’t your thing, look elsewhere. War is as much a character as the trauma and the literal players in this story. It’s such a masterful work of prose and translation. This is definitely one of those that I’ll be revisiting because there is so much to chew on.

Review: THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND by Joan He (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2021
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: terminal illness, suicide, violence (including choking), death, death of parent (off page), vomiting, large scale natural disasters and mass casualties

Cee has lived on an abandoned island for three years with no idea of how she got there. All she knows is that she has a sister, Kasey, who lives in eco-cities, a final bastion protecting humanity from ecological collapse that has been an apocalypse of humanity’s design. With intricate science and a stern point of view about its role in human lives, Joan He crafts a story steeped with mystery and melancholy.

A book that left me with that feeling of sitting on the shore while a beach day winds down, it’s better to go into it knowing as little as possible.

But, I can’t leave the review like that, now can I? What I really liked is the exploration of survival and, specifically, survivor guilt. There is so much tragedy, from the sisters’ mother’s death to the large scale natural disasters that ravaged the Earth, whose solutions led to other disasters. The prose is immersive, with deep interiority in the POVs of both sisters.

What He does particularly well is letting the reader comes to conclusions on their own before the book confirms suspicions. It’s engaging in the most masterful way. Again, I cannot go into specifics, but before you open up to page 1, trust He as she takes you on a journey of sisterly love and coming to terms with unresolved griefs.