The Slynx – Reading Women 2019

This post is part of a series on reading women 2019 hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s Narrative Designer, Dan Michael Fielding.

Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx is the best book I’ve read this year.

Two hundred years after a nuclear holocaust (“the blast”) has changed the Earth, humans continue to muddle on facing (but not truly reckoning with) the consequences of their actions.

The cover of The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Jamey Gambrell, depicts a barren wasteland of sand and sticks.

In this dystopic future food is scarce, but alcohol isn’t, and neither is a bit of violent fun. Everyone lives with a Consequence as a result of the blast. Some people were born without legs, others have tails, another can breathe fire. Some people are immortal, still alive from before the blast ravaged the land.

These Consequences extend to animals (chickens who lay eggs filled with fermented alcohols) and plants (glowing figs ripe with radiation). It’s a future a bit weird, a bit off from our own, but one that the Golubchiks, the people of the world, have had two centuries to get used to.

The story mostly follows Benedikt, a Golubchik man living in a settlement under the thumb of the Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. Benedikt works as a scribe of Kuzmich’s “work”, painstakingly copying the poetry and stories Kuzmich delivers to him.

As the story progresses we glimpse all the things that Benedikt and the other Golubchiks take for granted: state decrees, violent parties, thievery, and people being disappoeared. Throughout the story the specter of the slynx haunts Benedikt: the slynx could come at any moment to steal you away, severe the link between your body and your mind, and leave you a mindless shambling thing.

I won’t spoil the full story progression because it’s quite a wild ride, but there are two things about Tolstaya’s work that make me say this is the best book I’ve read this year.

First, it’s just a joy to read. Tolstaya and her translator Gambrell have such fun with language. Each line and phrase dances along, draws you deeper and keeps you skipping like a stone over water on and on to the next thing. The narration slips easily between first, second, and third point-of-view, but this is never distracting. I got the sense that each switch in narrative point-of-view was wholly intentional, designed to make the story clearer and more accessible rather than confusing. There is an incredible amount of stuff going on in The Slynx and yet it never feels bogged down. It’s easy and enjoyable to read.

Second, this is a book that deserves a place alongside other dystopic classics: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Tolstaya’s The Slynx is a commentary on how books can change from things filled with revolutionary potential into mere objects to be horded and art to be collected, all based on how we are taught to interpret them. Her commentary isn’t heavy-handed, either; it develops naturally given the odd (but unfortunately not unthinkable) context of the people who populate her world.

The Slynx is a joyful romp of a book that doesn’t shy away from the violence and heartbreak of humanity, with a strong message and a readable quality that makes you savor each page.

I hope you will give The Slynx a try. I’m very glad I did.

What did you read for the works in translation challenge? Did you discovery any gems? Let us know below!

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