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The New Sweet Style Hardcover – November 23, 1999
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Vassily Aksyonov (Generations of Winter) is clearly a man of vast ambitions: his writing has an invigorating wildness, veering off into the stratosphere at regular intervals. Aksyonov was forced to leave Russia in the '80s because his work was considered too controversial for publication. One senses there is nothing he would not satirize, even the "great Russian writer" aristocracy he so clearly sees himself descending from. At times his remarkable, frustrating The New Sweet Style seems composed in great Russian writer drag--an elaborate and garish parody of the old style, a fabulous product of that country's strange vanishing.
At the novel's shifting center is Alexander Korbach, a director-folksinger-Renaissance man who has been forced out of Russia and seeks fame in America. He steps off the plane in New York expecting to be greeted by the press, but they're entirely focused on a tennis player, and in this sad passage Aksyonov beautifully renders his exaggerated sense of his own importance:
Korbach dragged his suitcase on its little trolley around the terminal for no less than an hour and drank water from a fountain so that he wouldn't have to order a Coke in English, until the staggering thought hit him: No one is meeting me here! Yet Maurice told me that they would! That there had been loads of reports in the American press! Every American he met had exclaimed: "Alexander Korbach! It's a great name in the States!"The New Sweet Style is a long, sometimes confusing book, but its pleasures are vast, its multitude of characters consistently engaging and distinct even as they crowd in on one another. Aksyonov occasionally engages in metafictional asides that can be intrusive, like someone talking during a movie. But when he shuts up, the sounds and colors flourish and his world becomes as vivid as a spinning vodka dream. --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
Alexander Korbach, the hero of acclaimed Russian ?migr? Aksyonov's picaresque new novel, is, like his author, so disliked by the Soviet authorities that after a career as a protest singer and dramaturge for a troupe called the Buffoons, he's pressured by the KGB to leave the Soviet Union. He heads for Venice, Calif., where he gets a worm's-eye view of Reagan's America, working as a parking attendant, hanging out with the riffraff patrons of a local bar called First Bottom. But fate catches up with him in the person of millionaire Stanley Korbach, a distant relative. Alex refuses Stanley's assistance, but he does go to a big family reunion on Stanley's estate in Maryland, where he meets the love of his life, Stanley's married daughter, Nora Mansoun. The problem is, Alex is broke. He even has to sell cocaine to afford to see Nora. Eventually, Nora persuades Pinkerton University to hire Alex for the drama department. At this point, the story goes haywire. Stanley Korbach, now a blend of Daddy Warbucks and George Soros, showers Alex with a director's job in Hollywood and a position in an American/Russian political fund. Nora becomes an astronaut, then leaves Alex to go to a dig in Iraq. Alex as a celebrity, with Stanley acting as his personal deus ex machina, becomes a device by which the author can insert his historical observations about the fall of Gorbachev and the events of August 1991. At the very end, this massive book recaptures its manic but focused energy, when Korbach's Hollywood career falls apart. Despite the novel's lapses, Aksyonov is a fantastic talent, a master of "Mr. Gogol's style of lyrical digression," by which he ponders literature and fate in large, sometimes autobiographical asides, like a series of genial showman's winks. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
The novel THE NEW SWEET STYLE starts when Alexander Korbach reaches America on August 10, 1982, it's his 43rd birthday. Alexander Korbach isn't his real name and he isn't really Jewish. As a child he was known as Sasha Izhmailov. He was born and raised in Russia with his parents, a mother that loved him and a father who didn't. He also has a younger brother and sister. He tells us of a family secret that came out when he noticed his grandmother would come bearing gifts for him only when his father left, and how she seemed to behave as if she had some sort of ownership over him. Now in America Alexander tries to make a life for himself as and singer and playwright. He meets and woman named Nora and finds himself in a relationship with her and New York City.
THE NEW SWEET STYLE is a mature novel, in the sense that Vassily has his hero landing in New York, so we can expect the usual mature predicaments with the hero and those he comes in contact with. I found the presentation of the book different in that the narrator doesn't just talk to the the reader, he also directs him and points things out. Be ready for a factual, interesting, lengthy read.