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Leonid Latynin


a novel-parable, 240 pages
paper ISBN 9785717200479
ebook ISBN 9785717201100

Translated by Andrew Bromfield

Sample writing excerpt from the novel

"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." — Georges NIVAT, Magazine Litteraire (Paris)

"Leonid Latynin, a scholar and poet whose imagination is exalted and gleams with the smallest detail of past epochs." —The Moscow Times

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 faithfullness 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.

"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. The heroes move through a fabric of historical events that are real, half-imaginary or simply, like forced baptisms and fires, typical of the Russian destiny.
Moscow is the connecting link, a setting of virgin forest, tiny pagan town, city of the bloody Middle Ages or of a modern age echoing with gunfire." — Claud FRIOUX, from the postface to the French edition of Sleeper at Harvest Time

"This fable about an artist living in a bizarre dystopic society was written in 1978, but it was not published in Russia until 10 years later, after perestroika. Latynin's dense and challenging novel is set in a nameless City, where the inhabitants 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 the Likeness Operation, unanesthetized 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 brutal. Latynin claims that his thought-provoking work is not an Orwelian 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." — Review by Publishers Weekly, 28 February, 2000

Leonid Latynin was born in 1938 in a small town on the Volga. In the private library of an Orthodox priest he discovered the pre-revolutionary Russian culture such as the poetry of Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva, Bely and Blok, the art of Bakst, Dobuzhinsky and Vrubel, which was in total contrast with the castrated literature taught at school. The Silver Age art became for him a symbol of opposition to the impoverished and colorless provincial life of the Stalin period.
After a series of jobs and the army service he graduated from Moscow University upon which he worked in various publishing houses while writing poetry and studying pre-Christian Russian culture. He published six collections of his verse, but he only managed to publish his novels after perestroika: The Face-Maker and the Muse in 1988; Sleeper at Harvest Time in 1993, and Stavr and Sara in 1994. Sleeper at Harvest Time was published in French translation by Flammarion in 1992, and in English translation by Zephyr Press in 1994. Stavr and Sarah appeared in English in Glas 6, and 'The Bear Fight' (Part One of The Den) in Glas 16.