Vladimir Sorokin  <<


Published by

Zakharov Publishers, Moscow

Èditions de l’Olivier, Paris

Wydawnictwo W.A.B., Warsaw

Gondolat Kiadó, Budapest

New York Review of Books, New York

Berlin Verlag, Berlin

Alfaguara, Madrid

Russian critics are reporting that, if after his novel "The Ice," any doubt existed that Vladimir Sorokin had really said farewell to Conceptualism, then, following the appearance of his new novel " Bro," those doubts have been swept aside.

- "Sorokin has changed from a misanthrope and pessimist who takes satisfaction in black humor, into a serious thinker who is trying to overcome the anthropological crisis of the twentieth century." (Afischa)

- "In his new novel, Sorokin is exactly the way he is on the inside. Despite all the ice, the novel is permeated with love." (Topos)

Vladimir Sorokin has demonstrated that he can get along without feces, vomit and violence. There are lots of really worse things in the modern-day world. The writer once was considered an experimenter and destroyer of myths has taken up story-telling and has begun to create his own myth. "'Bro' shows the reader a new Sorokin. The enthusiastic young adherants to "Moving Together" [the so-called pro-Putin-youth, who have publicly destroyed Sorokin's books] will not encounter anything here that they can find fault with. That will take a top-of-the-line ideologist. The Art, Literature and Philosophy of the twenty-first century are immediately recognizable, and, in the 'New Russia,' they will doubtlessly be forbidden." (Moskovskie novosti)

"The Path of the Bro" is an autonomous work, but, at the same time, it is a "Prequel" to the story of Sorokin's novel "The Ice." The story of the idyllic pre-Revolutionary childhood of Alexander Snegirov [his name means 'snow'] in a well-off Russian family is told in a classical style like that in Nabokov's works or in Goncharov's "Oblomov." There is, however, one thing that makes Snegirov's life special: a recurring dream. He is standing at the foot of a mountain, the peaks of which give off such an intense light that he is eventually dissolved in this light and disappears.

Snegirov's sheltered childhood ends with the death of his family during the turmoil of the Revolution. The ten-year-old boy is forced into a journey, on which Providence seems to guide and protect him. It brings him to Petrograd, where he lives with some relatives in poverty and loneliness. At the end of the 1920s, Snegirov is expelled from the university, and, by the accident of the fact that he was born on the same day in 1908 as the Tungus meteorite came down in Siberia, becomes a member of an expedition that is going to the impact site. All the members of the expedition die, but Snegirov survives and, face to face with a gigantic block of ice, remembers his real name: "Bro." He becomes aware that he is from another world and that his mission is to gather together all the members of the "Ice Brotherhood" who have taken on human form and are spread all over the world. The cosmic error that resulted in the development of mankind can only be corrected, and world harmony restored, when all 23,000 of the creature of light are reunited.

This is where the adventurous search for the people of light begins. Time is of the essence, however, because a human life short, and when one of those who has already awoken dies, his new mortal coil has to be found. This gives the story a sense of speed as it courses through history like a time-lapse film: the Stalinist purges, Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl, the war between the land of ice and the land of order …

Sorokin wants to follow "The Ice" and "Bro" with a third book to create an 'Ice' trilogy.

Sample translation

Tverskaya Street, house No. 6

A dark blue “Saab 600” drove into the yard and came to a halt.

Sitting on the rear seat reading a newspaper was Borenboim: age 44, medium height, balding, blond, intelligent face, blue eyes, narrow spectacles with gold frames, dark-green three-piece.

He finished reading. Tossed the paper on to the front seat. Picked up a slim black briefcase:

“Tomorrow, half-nine.”

“Okay.” The driver nodded: age 52, long head, ash-grey hair, large nose, thick lips, brown bomber jacket, blue polo-neck.

Borenboim got out and walked towards entrance No. 2. The mobile in his pocket rang. He took it out. Stopped walking. Held it to his ear.

“Yes? Well? But we’ve already agreed. There, at nine. Na-ah, make it upstairs, the food’s better and it’s not so noisy. What? Then why didn’t he ring me at the office? Well? Lyosh, what are you talking about?… Somebody’s got their wires crossed here! I’ve got to see him face to face to give him advice! He can come here like the rest. Yeah. Look, Lyosh, this is a joint investment, his share in the fund’s 25% at most, so there’s no question of quick cash liquidity! Corporate bonds are in pretty good shape right now, they’ve been on the up for more than a month, so there’s nothing to discuss. Yes, fuck it! But returns are still falling anyway! That’s Russia for you! What advice can I give you? My advice is to come round tomorrow at ten. Okay? We can do without all this intellectual waffle… Eh? Go ahead. That’s settled, then… Oh, and Lyosh – did you hear what happened to Volodya? Last night someone brought in an excavator and dug out two cash machines. Yeah! Savva told me. Ask him, he knows the details. That’s the way the banana peels. Okay, see you.”

Borenboim went into the entrance hall.

He nodded to the concierge: female, age 66, skinny, wig, spectacles, pink and grey woolly cardigan, brown skirt, felt boots.

He got into the lift. Went up to the third floor. Got out. Took out his key. Started to unlock his door.

Suddenly something hard was pressed into his back. He started to turn round. But someone grabbed hold of his left shoulder:

“Don’t turn round. Look straight ahead.”

Borenboim looked at his door. It was steel. Painted grey.

“Open it,” ordered a deep male voice.

Bornboim turned the key twice.

“Go in. Twitch and I’ll drop you.”

Borenboim didn’t move. The end of a silencer was thrust against his cheek. It smelled of gun oil.

“You heard. I’ll count to one.”

Borenboim pushed the door with his hand. Went into the dark hall.

A hand in a brown glove took the key out of the door. The man followed Borenboim in and immediately closed the door behind him.

“Switch on the light,” he ordered.

Borenboim felt for the broad, flat switch and pressed it. Lights immediately came on throughout the five-room apartment. And music started to play. Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”.

“On your knees.” The man stuck the barrel of the pistol between Borenboim’s shoulder blades.

Borenboim sank down on to the beige rug with the deep pile.

“Hands behind you.”

He let go of the briefcase. Reached his hands behind hid back. Handcuffs clicked on to his wrists.

The man began going through Borenboim’s pockets

“The money’s in the desk in the study. About two thousand. That’s all there is,” Borenboim muttered.

The man carried on searching his pockets. Took out his wallet. Mobile phone. Gold “GUCCI” cigarette lighter.

He put them all on the floor.

He opened the briefcase: business papers, two tobacco pipes in a leather case, a tin of tobacco, a volume of stories by Borges.

“Get up.” The man took Borenboim under the arm.

Borenboim got up. Looked at the stranger.

The man: age 36, short, sturdy build, blond, blue eyes, close-cropped hair, fleshy face, narrow blond moustache, steel-grey raincoat, light-grey scarf, black leather rucksack on his shoulders.

“Go through.” The man prodded Borenboim with the pistol.

Borenboim walked on. They passed the first drawing room with the all-round aquarium and soft upholstered furniture. Went into the second. With the low Japanese furniture and three scrolls hanging on the wall. And the flat-screen television. The music centre standing in the corner. A blue-black pyramid.

The man went over to the pyramid. Looked at it:

“How does it turn off?”

“The remote’s over there.” Borenboim nodded towards a low quartz table. The blue-black remote was lying at the edge.

The man took it. Pressed the “POWER” button. The music stopped.

“Sit down.” He pressed down on Borenboim’s shoulder. Sat him on a low seat with a red cushion.

He put the pistol in his pocket. Took off the rucksack. Opened it. Took out a hammer and two steel pitons.

“What walls do you have here?”

“How do you mean?” Borenboim blinked, pale.

“Brick, concrete?”


The man pulled two of the scrolls off the wall. Eyed up the space. Hammered a piton into the wall with three blows. Level with his shoulders. Moved along a couple of metres. Hammered in a second piton. Level with the first. Then he took out a mobile and dialled a number:

“Everything’s in place You’re on. It’s open.”

Shortly after that Dibich entered the apartment: female, age 32, tall, thin, broad shoulders, blonde, bluish-grey eyes, hard bony face, blue-grey coat, dark-blue beret, dark-blue gloves, light-blue and yellow scarf, long sports bag.

She looked round. Glanced swiftly at Borenboim on the seat.


The man took a length of rope out of the rucksack. Cut it in half with a knife.

They pulled Borenboim to his feet. Took off the handcuffs. Began taking off his jacket.

“Would you like to do me a favour and tell me what you want?” Borenboim asked.

“Not yet.” Dibich took his right hand and tied a piece of rope on to it.

“I don’t keep money at home.”

“We don’t want money. We’re not thieves.”

“Who are you then? Insurance agents?” Borenboim gave a nervous laugh. Licked his dry lips.

“No, not insurance agents. Dibich replied seriously. “But we do need you.”

“What for?”

“Relax. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

They tied his hands to the pitons in the wall.

“Are you Satanists?” Borenboim was standing. With his arms extended to both sides.

“No.” Dibich took off her coat. Exposed a blue suit in fine pin-stripe.

“What do you want? What the fuck?” Borenboim’s voice broke.

The man sealed his mouth with sticky tape. Dibich unzipped her sports bag. It contained an oblong mini-fridge. She opened it. Took out a hammer made of ice. The man unbuttoned Borenboim’s shirt at the chest. Ripped his undershirt. Suddenly Borenboim kicked him in the groin. The man doubled up. Hissed sharply. Dropped to his knees:


Dibich waited. Leaned on the hammer.

“Oh, bastard…” The man grimaced.

Dibich waited a while. Looked at the scroll hanging on the wall:

“The ice is melting, Obu.”

The man straightened up. They approached the man bound to the wall. Borenboim tried to kick Dibich.

“Hold his legs!” she said.

The man flung himself forward. Threw his arms round Borenboim’s knees. Froze.

“Speak from the heart!” Dibich swung the hammer. It whistled through the air. Described an elegant semi-circle. Smashed into Borenboim’s chest.

Borenboim snarled.

Dibich pressed her ear to his chest.

“Speak, speak, speak…”

Borenboim snarled. Jerked.

Dibich stepped back. Took a swing. Struck with all her strength.

The hammer shattered. Pieces flew in all directions.

Borenboim groaned. Dangled on the ropes. His head slumped onto his chest.

Dibich pressed her ear to his chest.

“Speak, speak, speak…”

There was a murmur in his breastbone.

Dibich listened intently.

The man listened too.

“Mo...ho…” Dibich articulated.

She straightened up, satisfied.

“His name is Moho.”

“Moho,” the man repeated. He frowned. He smiled.

* * *

At last the fateful day arrived: 6 July 1950.

I rose with the dawn, like the other brothers and sisters. We went out into the meadow in front of the house and stood in pairs, as always, embraced and went down on our knees. Our hearts began speaking in the secret tongue. It went on for several hours. Then we unclasped our embraces. We went back into the house, tidied ourselves up and had a meal.

After the meal Bro took me aside. He said:

“Hram, today is the day you must leave our brotherhood and set out for Russia. And you will seek the living among the dead. Awaken them and return them to life. You have travelled a long road with us. You have mastered the language of the heart. You have experienced all twenty-three heartfelt words. You are ready to serve the great goal. I shall tell you what you must know. This living tradition is handed on by word-of-mouth, it does not exist on paper. And so, listen: in the beginning there was only the Light Primordial. And the Light shone in the Absolute Void. And the Light shone for Itself. The Light consisted of twenty-three thousand luminiferous rays. And we were those rays. Time did not exist for us. There was only Eternity. And in this Eternal Void we shone. And gave birth to worlds. The worlds filled the Void. Thus was the Universe born. Each time we wished to create a new world, we assembled the twenty-three thousand rays into the Heavenly Circle of Light. All of the rays were directed into the circle and after 23 impulses a new world was born at its centre. They were stars, planets and galaxies. And once we created a new world. And one of its seven planets was completely covered in water. It was the planet Earth. We had never made any such planets before. This was the Great Error of the Light. For the water on the planet Earth formed a spherical mirror. No sooner were we reflected in it than we ceased to be rays of light and were incarnated in living beings. We became primitive amoebas inhabiting the boundless ocean. Our minute semi-transparent bodies were borne along by the water, but the Primordial Light still dwelt within us as before. And just as before there were twenty-three thousand of us. But we were scattered throughout the wide expanses of the ocean. And then billions of earth years passed. We evolved together with the other beings inhabiting the Earth. We became people. People multiplied and filled the whole Earth. They began to live by the mind, enslaving themselves in the flesh. Their lips spoke in the tongue of the mind and that tongue covered the entire visible world like a membrane. People ceased to see things. They began to think them. Blind and heartless, they became ever more cruel. They created weapons and machines. They killed and gave birth, gave birth and killed. And they were transformed into the walking dead. Because people were our mistake. Like everything that lives on the Earth. And the Earth was transformed into hell. And separated from each other, we lived in that hell. We died and were incarnated again, unable to break away from the Earth, which we ourselves had created. And always as before there were twenty-three thousand of us. The Primordial Light dwelt on in our hearts. But our hearts slept, just as the billions of human hearts sleep. What could awaken them, so that we would realise who we are and what we must do? All of the worlds created by us before the Earth were dead. Suspended in the void like decorations on a New Year tree, bringing us joy. The Joy of the Primordial Light sang in them. The Earth alone violated the Cosmic Harmony. For it was alive and developed of itself. And it developed like an ugly cancerous tumour. But the Cosmic Harmony cannot be disrupted for long. A small piece of one of the delightful decorations we had made fell on the Earth. It was one of the biggest meteorites. And it happened in 1908, in Siberia, close to the Podkamennaya river in Tungusk. It was called the Tungusk meteorite. In 1927 people of the mind organised an expedition to it. When they reached the site they saw a forest of felled trees, but they found no meteorite. There were fifteen people on the expedition. One of them was a twenty-year-old student, a blond-haired young man with blue eyes, a fanatical believer in progress. When he reached the spot where the meteorite had fallen, he experienced a strange sensation he had never known before: his heart began to palpitate. As soon as it happened he fell silent. He stopped talking to the other members of the exhibition. He could feel in his heart that the meteorite was somewhere close by. And the meteorite was giving out an energy that was influencing the young man. In just two days that energy turned his entire life upside down. The other members of the expedition thought he had gone insane. The expedition departed empty-handed. He dropped behind the expedition. And returned to the site of impact. And he found the meteorite. It was an immense block of ice. It had sunk into the swampy ground and the stagnant water had closed over it, concealing it from sight. The young man waded into the swamp, slipped and struck his chest hard against the ice. And his heart began to speak. And he understood everything. He broke off a piece of the ice, put it in his rucksack and went to look for people. The ice was heavy, it was hard to carry. The ice was melting. When he reached the nearest village all that was left of the ice was a small piece no bigger than the palm of his hand. When he went closer to the village he saw a girl asleep in the grass. She was light-haired, and her blue eyes were slightly open. He picked up a stick from the ground, fastened the ice to it with a piece of string and struck the girl on the chest with this ice hammer with all his might. The girl cried out and lost consciousness. He lay down beside her and fell asleep. When he woke, she was sitting beside him and gazing at him as though he were her brother. They embraced. And their hearts began speaking to each other. And they understood everything. And they went in search of others like them.

Bro paused and added:

“I was that young man.”

Then he continued;

“I have never spoken to you before of the goals of our brotherhood. All who have completely mastered the language of the heart can sense them. You are almost at that stage. But we cannot afford to wait, you must leave for Russia as soon as possible. And search for our brothers and sisters there. For those who do not belong to this infernal world. Those in whose hearts the memory of the Light lives on.

Looking at me, he stopped speaking.

“What must I do?” I asked.

“Sieve through the dross of humankind. Search for the gold dust. There are twenty-three thousand of us. No more and no less. We are blue-eyed and fair-haired. As soon as all twenty-three thousand shall be found, as soon as they shall all know the language of the heart, we shall form a circle and together our hearts shall pronounce the twenty-three heartfelt words. And at the centre of the circle shall arise the Light Primordial, he who created the worlds. And the error shall be corrected, the Earth shall be dissolved in the Light. And our earthly bodies shall be dissolved together with the world of Earth. And we shall once again become rays of the Light Primordial. And we shall return to Eternity.

No sooner had Bro spoken these words than there was a stirring in my heart. And I FELT everything that he had told me in our earthly language. I saw us standing in a circle, joining hands and speaking the heartfelt words.

Bro felt this. And he smiled:

Now, Hram, you know everything.

I was astounded. But one question tormented me.

“What is the ice?”

“It is the ideal cosmic substance, begotten of the Primordial Light. In appearance it is similar to earthly ice. But in fact its structure is different. When it is vibrated the Music of the Light sings in it. When it is struck against our breastbones, the ice vibrates. And these vibrations awaken our hearts.”

He said it, and I immediately felt it. And I understood what ICE is.

“There are three of our brotherhood in Russia,” Bro continued. “They will help you. And together you will do this great thing. Go now, Hram.”

Such was the beginning of my return to the land of my birth.