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LEONID LATYNIN

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Leonid Latynin was born in 1938 in a small town on the Volga and raised by his grandmother on old religious books and Russian folklore. Since childhood he has been fascinated with pre-Christian Russian culture, which gave the basis for his highly original novels. Latynin has a degree in philology and is an expert in pre-Christian culture and Russian folk arts.
His work can hardly be classed with any existing literary trends or movements. Asked in an interview whether he had been associated with the literary underground back in Soviet times Latynin said that he existed on its margins, living alone like a hermit.
He has several collections of poetry to his name, the novels Alien Blood, The Face-maker and the Muse (published in English in Glas), Sleeper at Harvest Times.
Sleeper at Harvest Time was also published in French by Flammarion, and in English by Zephyr Press; Stavr and Sarah appeared in English in Glas 6. See excerpt from The Lair in Glas.


Main works

The Face-maker and the Muse, a novel-parable.
In a city where it always rains some people have names while others have only numbers. By means of plastic surgery all are made alike, both outwardly and inwardly. The Face-maker and the Muse is an anti-utopia about the society where work is a giant machinery mutilating human beings, where everybody desperately tries to climb the social ladder as high as he/she can, but the success depends on the degree of the person's likeness to the Model Face, created by the Chief Face-maker. From time to time the Model is changed, overturning the entire social structure and causing terrible ordeals. Written in 1977-78 the novel predicted as it were the Gorbachev era and the subsequent social turmoil. In a way it is a philosophical enquiry into the mental anguish of a spiritually aware person in an alien society. But above all this hovers tenderness and an unbelievable need of two human beings for each other: love is an outlet and a promise of renovation and rebirth of the human spirit after all the martyrdom of this century. Latynin demonstrates faithfulness to high moral ideals which are not crushed by the cruel and soulless society he depicts. Humanity triumphs in the end despite terrible human loss.

Publisher’s Weekly: “This fable about an artist living in a bizarre dystopic society was written in 1978, but it wasn’t published in Russia until after perestroika. Latynin’s dense and challenging novel is set in a nameless “City,” where the inhabitants themselves receive names only if they are among the privileged few. All other residents are known by their numbers, and ranking depends on how closely a person’s face resembles the official model visage, “The Image,” which is crafted by the Great Face-Maker. After the latter is ousted in a political rift, his apprentice, Face-Maker, is promoted to take his place. His advancement forces the Face-Maker to question his “art” in performing “Likeness Operations,” unanaesthetized plastic surgery intended to help the unfortunate improve their lot in society. Latynin’s concise text describes this frightening world in matter-of-fact prose, though the details are often nightmarish and outrageous. There are public gardens where citizens may strangle the bird of their choice, and eerie descriptions of sex both mechanical and brutish. In an introduction, Latynin claims that his thought-provoking work is not an Orwellian condemnation of a particular economic, bureaucratic or political system but rather of people enslaved by their own lifelong, oppressive endeavor to improve their “future prospects.” Latynin points out that he is “interested less in society’s denial of the individual than in a free individual’s denial of society.” Intrigued readers who take on this slim but demanding novel will be rewarded by its depth and originality."

Professor Deming Brown (in Soviet Russian Literature, Cambridge University Press): “It is tempting to see this fantastic allegory as a kind of anti-utopian political parable, although as such it is not readily decipherable. The novel is also a study of the psychology and sufferings of the artist, who is increasingly disturbed about the morality of his ultimately absurd profession. A love story runs through the work, culminating in a tragic separation. In his Departure in the midst of a popular uprising, the hero leaves behind his beloved, who has just had another new face carved upon her. Not only Latynin's fiction is thematically far removed from contemporary realism, it stands apart in its stylistic originality. In The Face-Maker and the Muse he had shown a fondness for figurative language, and notably the simile.”

Sleeper at Harvest Times, a novel.
Based on pagan rituals, folklore, and mythology, this book is not so much a novel as it is a chronicle of one thousand years of Russian history. Its principal hero is Emelya, the “sleeper” who observes and surrealistically dreams his way through the cataclysmic “harvest” of Russian history. Fire and particularly blood are the salient themes, marking the human sacrifice that has been the cruel destiny of the Russian people. Emelya has been conceived by a Russian woman and fathered by a bear The novel begins in the eleventh century and develops through the ages, reaching its climax in a terrifying execution scene in the twenty-first century at the very same spot on the Moscow River where it had begun. Latynin takes his protagonist through various stages of Russian history, exposes him to pagan rites and a decadent fascination with sex, and forces him to witness multiple forms of violence and cruelty.

Alien Blood, a novel.
This mythological narrative about the adventures and reflections of Emelya, who is half-man and half-bear, a popular character from Russian folklore. Emelya travels in time and witnesses all the main events and crucial turning points in Russian history, beginning with the forcible baptism of Russia in 980.
Emelya’s early life coincides with the plague which carries away most of the people in his native village including his mother, a sorceress. He lives in the forest with his father the Bear who teaches him the laws of the forest and freedom of will. The forest is located on the exact site of the future city of Moscow which will be built many centuries later. The bears’ schooling is cruel and complex, and it is quite contrary to the Christian faith which Emelya will be taught later. This is the school of fighting and conquest, with no room for compassion or excuses.
The scenes of forest life and Emelya’s vivid dreams during the bears’ winter hibernation in the lair are interspersed with scenes of Emelya’s first love and a series of fires which burnt the forests around the Moscow seven hills. Thanks to Emelya’s beloved Zhdana the fires are finally extinguished. Emelya’s life in the forest comes to an end after the death of his father the bear: he was killed by the knights of Prince Boris. Before that Emelya was seized by Prince Boris’s men and was put in prison. He fights the knights in a bear-like way, and his four combats with four warriors from different parts of the world symbolize the Northerner’s distinction from the cultures of the South, the East, and the West.

Praise for Latynin
"Latynin's apocalyptic novel has been published just at a time when his grim predictions are coming true...." – Le Monde

"…over-determined allegory … it resonates with beguiling ideas." – The Guardian

"...A thought-provoking work... Intrigued readers of this demanding novel will be rewarded by its depth and originality.” – Publishers Weekly

"The novel's true hero is its language which even in translation achieves a poetic intensity and a musicality that are mesmerizing." – New York Times Book Review

"Latynin is a convincing and disquieting ethnographer but he is also a born storyteller, perfectly at home in this fragmented age. ...His incantations possess a magic power..." – Magazine Litteraire

"Leonid Latynin is one of the most original of the "post-realists" of Russian literature since the mid-1980s. His action and reality extend in a homogeneous, elastic temporality from the pre-Christian Russia through a near future of social decomposition. The novel makes an individual memory out of the total memory of a people.” – from the "Postface" to the French edition

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