Friday, 2 September 2011

The Zero Train - Yuri Buida

A lot of comparisons have been made to try to capture the essence of this short novel – Kafkaesque, Beckett with trains, you get the picture. And whilst these may be true to a degree, it is only a small degree. Buida has his own voice and his own approach. Indeed, like all good writers he has subverted everything without once straying from a path which anyone can follow. Most importantly, he has taken what many term Socialist Realism and used it to cast a blisteringly clear light on Stalinist Russia. That this would call to mind both Kafka and Beckett (and many more beside) is inevitable.

If that is his style, his subject is both simple and infinitely expressive, with a life beyond the episodic tale. A railway line is built along which travels the Zero Train. At intervals along the track there are stations and sidings, workshops, and all the life that is lived by those who maintain all these facilities. We are given glimpses into the long, bleak, and brutal life of one such place. It encapsulates the Stalinist era, but it also lays wide open the human condition. Those who arrive at the beginning, young, with hope, are ground down through the years. Those that survive are little more than that. Survivors. Their lives have been devoted to the Zero Train, the purpose of which is a mystery. When the train goes, they must go as well.

The whole book is a surreal tour de force. It sounds grim, and the realism spares no sensibilities, but at the same time it is a poetic work, and a paean to those whose whole lives were lived with the heel of the boot on their faces. Certainly a book worth seeking out.