I've finally finished Vladimir Sorokin's Bro a few days ago, and now I really hope he won't keep us waiting too long for the third volume of the trilogy, because I don't think I've ever been at such a loss about where an author is going with his book(s).
What I already noticed in Der Tag des Opritschniks is that he does really interesting things with POVs in a very understated way. In Ljod - Das Eis at first you're mostly thinking, who are these crazies who are abducting people and hitting them on the chests with hammers of ice for no clear reason, and, generally speaking, what the fuck is happening here. Then you see three of the surviving victims 'wake up' from their lives that are meaningless at best and full of abuse at worst to some kind of deeper emotion or higher level of existence and you're sort of thinking, maybe that's not so bad after all. At this point, mid-book, he switches POV and goes back in time, telling the story of Warwara/Chram, a Russian girl who gets deported to Germany as a slave labourer during WW2, and there is discovered to be one of those 'select' people. And then we, along with Chram, finally get the explanation: those whose heart have been 'awakened' by the ice are parts of some God-like entity, the 23 000 rays of the 'original light' that created the universe, but in creating Earth got trapped by the water surface reflecting their energy and were turned into physical beings. They lost awareness of themselves and lived and were reincarnated, going through the whole of evolution, and only when one of them (Bro) came into contact with the Tunguska meteorite in the early 20th century he realised again who and what he was, and started his mission to find and awaken the other 22 999 brothers and sisters.
Bro's story is told in the more linear and conventionally written second volume, and while it doesn't actually reveal anything new, it really drives home the implication and consequences, because it essentially describes the process of his dehuminisation. The first person POV emphasises the changes Bro goes through from a normal Russian boy from a wealthy family living through WW1 and the revolution, until he joins the expedition to Siberia. Even before he touches the ice of the meteorite he loses interest in his fellow travellers; once his heart is 'awakened' he sees life on Earth, and especially humanity, only as an endless circle of death: mindless sex, procreation and death, violence and killing, over and over again. Death and only death, in endless variety. Once he starts seeing with his heart, the separation from humanity is complete, and even the prose loses every last trace of it, which makes the last 70 or so pages rather hard to read. There are no man or women any more, only 'Fleischmaschinen' ('meat machines'), hiding in their caves of stone and killing each other with bits of hot metal. There is no morality any longer, nothing but finding their brothers and sisters matters. They scour the Nürnberger Parteitag and the death camps alike.
And yet -- that they ally themselves with Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia when it suits their need and helps them in their search, that they torture and kill without conscience, remorse or mercy when they need money or resources, that they're murdering a hundred people to find one of their own... in the end all this is almost negligible in comparison to what they're striving for: To return to their original state of light, and thereby erasing the mistake they made, Earth with its irregularities and instability, and to restore their cosmos to its original state of peace and harmony, undisturbed by birth or death.
And at this point it's terribly pessimistic, because no one has really spoken up for humanity so far. The lives of the people in Ljod are thoroughly depressing, no love, no joy, just bleakness and meaninglessness and violence; the closest we come to a positive representation of human life is Bro's childhood, which is normal and peaceful until it's turned upside down by the revolution. And as a reader you're torn. On the one hand by the end of the second volume you want to defend and justify humanity, chaotic and imperfect as it is, to these uncaring gods, on the other hand, and that's the horrible thing, you look at your own life and the state of the world and you're not sure you can, because you know perfectly well that it's only too easy to see life like that. If you're unable to recognise the beauty in between, the bits that make it worth it, then that's all that's left, the pain, the neverending violence, the endless circle of birth and death, and Dostojewski is really nothing but a heap of meaningless paper.
And because I seem to be incapable of writing an entry these days without mentioning the T.-
woodword -- if one could find a way around that fact that in Sorokin's books Earth is the only planet with life in an otherwise lifeless and perfect universe (and I've actually kind of worked that part out in my mind), this could be turned into a fantastic Torchwood crossover fanfic. It has all the right existentialist themes, and team Torchwood would get to save the world without even putting it on the edge of destruction themselves first...
Sometimes I really hate my brain for coming up with ideas it is neither has the talent or determination to realise, and that no one else will write for me, either. Can't I be content with simple porn? ::headdesk::