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Monday, July 09, 2018

The Clay Machine Gun (1996) by Victor Pelevin

Book Review
The Clay Machine Gun (1996)
 by Victor Pelevin

  Only after I bought The Clay Machine Gun online did I discover that in America, the same novel was published as Buddha's Little Finger in the United States.   Adding to the confusion, the Russian title translates as Chapayev and Void-so... three titles.   The Clay Machine Gun is firmly rooted in the free wheeling era between the collapse of Communism and the rise of Putin-ism.   You can see parallels to artists in Weimar Germany in the way Pelevin takes advantage of artistic license to fashion a dark and disturbing vision of the failings of that society.  Like many authors writing in a less-free society, Pelevin also makes use of surrealism and allegory to craft multiple layers of meaning.

  Here, the narrative bounces between time periods, sharing one narrator, a "Peter Void."  Half of the book takes place in the time of Revolutionary Russia, where Void becomes the aide-de-camp of a Tibetan mystic/Russian Army General who posses the Clay Machine Gun/Buddha's Little Finger of the title- an ultimately annihilating relic of the finger of the buddha that holds the ability to make the entire universe vanish.  If you consider that revelation a "spoiler," then more power to you.

 The more contemporary half of the plot involves a present day Peter Void- confined in a mental institution, where he is told that the other half of the plot- about the Russian general during the Russian revolution- is a hallucination caused by some kind of multiple personality syndrome.

 Pelevin also includes historical counterparts for Void's psychiatric ward companions- a Japanese hit man, a Viking warrior and a trans character who has a Strangelovian ride with Arnold Schwarzenegger.   It is all realistically surreal, if that makes sense. 

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