“Stories from Home”
Is there still a cure for Russia?
By Marc Dimpfel
01/01/2023 12:38 p.m
Indefatigable criticism of Putin’s Russia forces author Dmitry Glukhovsky into exile. In his anthology “Stories from Home” he dissects the country’s social abysses – and does away with Western illusions.
Home writes the most honest stories. It shapes people, creates identity, makes them vulnerable and only shows itself in its true form to those who call it home. Russia, home of Dmitry Glukhovsky, is the largest country in the world and is waging a criminal war of aggression against its neighbor. His “Stories from Home” were published by Heyne-Verlag this fall.
Glukhovsky, who was born in Moscow in 1979 and became world famous with the dystopian novel series “Metro 2033”, is a displaced person. The Russian state is persecuting him, his books are banned from the country’s libraries. Because he speaks all the uncomfortable truths for which there is no place in Putin’s megalomania.
He wrote the 21 episodes, some over a decade ago and all before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the world rubbed its eyes in disbelief and asked how it could have happened. The answer is in the foreword. Mother Russia is gravely ill, possessed by ancient demons and afflicted with parasitic rulers, the author writes. Glukhovsky’s protagonists are drunkards, work slaves, scientists, francophile governors, presidents. They are at the bottom, at the top, sometimes both. Each story is dedicated to a symptom.
Characters between comedy and tragedy
How the author describes these symptoms can be hilarious, for example when a UFO lands in the middle of the Moscow traffic chaos, but the television news prefers to show the President visiting the Baltic Fleet. Or bitingly satirical, as in the case of the incorruptible voting machine that drives politicians insane.
But it only becomes really impressive when Glukhovsky turns his back on the fantastic and lets brutal reality do the talking. In “Schwefel” a woman confesses to the murder of her husband and almost evokes understanding for the deed in the interrogating officer. A life in the sulfur-polluted hell of Norilsk in Siberia appears to be an even greater crime. A city where the children are born sick, the men work themselves to death in the mines and the money is never enough for a ticket to the “motherland”.
“There is fear in Russia and people are very passive. It’s learned helplessness if you don’t believe that you can change something in your country yourself,” Glukhovsky said in an interview with ntv.de. Most of his characters also appear to be far removed from the urge to change, or even subversion. The few who are still guided by morality fail miserably.
The image of the President, who is staged as an untouchable saint before whom the people bow and fall into blind obedience, runs like a red thread through. In “Food for Thai Catfish” the head of state is tired of the flood of business trips and demands a break. The prime minister has to reassure him that only the presence of the president can maintain belief in a national identity. Otherwise the giant Russian empire would collapse.
In many places Glukhovsky’s portrayal of morals is too striking. The degenerate society and its anti-heroes, who alternate between apathy and selfishness, literally jump in your face. That may be fair in these corruption-ridden conditions – after all, everyone in Russia knows how things are going. But that doesn’t cover up the often wooden language, which would have benefited from a bit more depth. The same is true of Glukhovsky’s portrayal of the Russian woman, who rarely gets beyond bickering marital attachments and willing secretaries.
Understanding Russia is what many are hoping for again these days. The “Stories from Home” can actually help with that. After about 450 pages of reading, translated into German by Christine Pöhlmann, Franziska Zwerg and M. David Drevs, a bitter taste remains. Because once the many diseases in Russia are openly revealed, any prospect of a cure seems far away.