Many writers create amazing things they’ve never lived through just out their imagination. Still I find writers who experienced terrifying shortcomings of life are able to create truly vibrant prose. Andrei Rubanov is a modern Russian author who has both a very adventurous personal history and a vivid imagination.
I came across Rubanov’s work several years ago when I read his dystopian novel Chlorophilia, set in the XXII century Moscow. Almost entire Russia lives in Moscow, the rest of the territory is either abandoned or, like Siberia, leased to China. Basically, the Russian capital turned into a bio-metropolis. One day giant plant stalks, hundreds of meters tall, of an unknown origin, appeared from the ground and changed the Moscow landscape forever. The capital started growing vertically: the privileged occupied the upper levels enjoying the sunshine, while the poor lived on the lower levels, in the perpetual shade. People started using the mysterious plants as food and found it could be used as an energy-boosting drug.
The story focuses around a journalist called Saveliy who works for the most prestigious Moscow magazine. He is career-oriented, cynical, and deluded about his cloudless future. While observing people degrading in the lower levels, he doesn’t notice his own irreversible transformation. Only one thing can save him. Is this truth? Is this self-sacrifice?
Chlorophilia is an inventive social satire applicable not just to Russia but any modern society. It’s quite a detour from Rubanov’s working genre of ultra-realism. His debut novel Do Time Get Time is his only work translated into English so far. The story, set in Russia in the 1990s, is autobiographical: a businessman gets imprisoned for financial fraud and comes out as a new person. True story. A bit of Russian Shantaram.
Rubanov is now a prolific author, publishing two novels a year, and he’s definitely one to watch.