4 by Pelevin : stories /
Victor Pelevin ; translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.
New York : New Directions, 2001.
101 p. ; 18 cm.
0811214915 (alk. paper)
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New York : New Directions, 2001.
0811214915 (alk. paper)
contents note
Hermit and Six-Toes -- The life and adventures of shed number XII -- Ver Pavlovna's ninth dream -- Tai Shou Chuan USSR (a Chinese folk tale).
catalogue key
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One




    "Get lost!"


    "I said, get lost. Out of my way, I'm trying to watch."

    "What're you watching?"

    "God, what an idiot.... All right, the sun."

    Six-Toes lifted his gaze from the black surface of the soil, scattered with food, sawdust, and powdered peat, screwed up his eyes, and stared into the sky.

    "Yeah ... we just keep living our lives, but what's it all for? The mystery of the ages. Who has ever truly comprehended the subtle filiform essence of the lights of heaven?"

    The stranger turned his head and contemplated him with an expression of curious disgust.

    "Six-Toes," said Six-Toes immediately, introducing himself.

    "I'm Hermit," replied the stranger. "Is that the way they talk here in your community? Subtle filiform essence? "

    "Not my community anymore," answered Six-Toes, and then suddenly gave a whistle: "Hey, will you look at that!"

    "What?" Hermit asked suspiciously.

    "Look, up there! Another one's just appeared?"

    "What of it?"

    "That never happens in the center of the world. Three suns all at once."

    Hermit sniggered condescendingly. "I've seen eleven of them at once. One at zenith and five in each epicycle. Of course, that wasn't here."

    "Where was it?" asked Six-Toes.

    Hermit didn't answer. He turned, walked away, and picking up a food scrap from the ground with his foot, began to eat. There was a warm, gentle wind, and two suns were reflected in the grey-green planes of the distant horizon. In this atmosphere of calm sadness Hermit became so engrossed in his thoughts that when he suddenly noticed Six-Toes standing in front of him he shuddered in surprise. "You again! Well, what do you want?"

    "Nothing. I just feel like talking."

    "You don't seem any too bright to me. You should get back to the community. You've wandered too far away. Go on, go back over there...." He waved in the direction of a thin dirty-yellow line wriggling and trembling in the distance. It was hard to believe that was how the huge unruly crowd appeared from here.

    "I would go back," said Six-Toes, "but they threw me out."

    "Really? What for? Politics?"

    Six-Toes nodded, scratching one leg with the other. Hermit glanced down at his feet and nodded.

    "Are they real?"

    "What else could they be? What they said to me was, Here we are just coming up to the Decisive Stage, and there you are with six toes on your feet.... Real good timing, they said...."

    "What `Decisive Stage' is that?"

    "I don't know. All of them milling about with long faces, especially the Twenty Closest, and I don't understand a thing. All of them running around, yelling and shouting."

    "Ah," said Hermit, "I understand. No doubt it gets clearer and clearer by the hour? Gradually assuming visible shape and form?"

    "That's right," said Six-Toes, astonished. "How did you know?"

    "I've already seen five of these Decisive Stages. Only they all had different names."

    "But how can that be?" said Six-Toes. "I know this is the first time it's happened."

    "Of course it is. It would be rather interesting to see what happens the second time around.... But then we're talking about somewhat different things." Laughing quietly, Hermit took a few steps towards the distant community, turned his back to it, and began scraping up the ground with his feet. Very soon a cloud of sawdust, peat, and scraps of food had formed in the air behind his back. He kept glancing round, waving his arms in the air, and muttering to himself. Six-Toes felt a bit frightened.

    "What were you doing?" he asked, when Hermit came back over to him, breathing heavily.

    "It's a gesture," Hermit answered. "An art form. You read a poem and perform the actions to go with it."

    "Which poem did you read?"

    "This one," said Hermit:

"Sometimes I feel sad

Observing those I have left.

Sometimes I laugh,

And then between us

There rises up the yellow mist."

    "That's not a poem," said Six-Toes. "I know all of the poems, thank God. Not by heart, of course, but I've heard all twenty-five of them. That definitely isn't one of them."

    Hermit looked at him in surprise, and then seemed to understand.

    "Can you remember at least one?" he asked. "Recite one for me."

    "Just a moment. The twins ... The twins ... right, well, to cut it short, it's about how we say one thing and we mean another. And then we say one thing and mean another again, only like the other way round. It's all very beautiful. At the end we look up at the wall and see a face that puts an end to all doubt and hesitation--"

    "Enough!" Hermit interrupted.

    There was silence.

    Six-Toes was the first to break it: "So, did they throw you out too?"

    "No, I threw all of them out."

    "How could that happen?"

    "All sorts of thing can happen," said Hermit. Glancing up at one of the heavenly bodies, he went on in a tone that suggested a shift from idle chatter to serious conversation: "It'll get dark soon."

    "Oh, sure. Right," replied Six-Toes. "Nobody knows when it's going to get dark."

    "I know. And if you want to sleep in peace, you just do what I do."

    Hermit set about scraping into heaps the sawdust, peat, and various bits of garbage under his feet. Gradually a wall took shape, about the same height as himself, and enclosing a small distinct space. His construction completed, Hermit stepped back, glanced at it lovingly, and said: "There. I call it The Sanctuary of the Soul."

    "Why?" asked Six-Toes."

    "I like the sound of it. Are you going to build one?"

    Six-Toes began scratching and scraping, but he couldn't get the hang of it. His wall kept collapsing. To tell the truth, he wasn't trying very hard, because he didn't really believe what Hermit had told him about it getting dark, so when the lights of heaven wavered and began gradually to dim, and the distant community gave out a communal gasp of horror like the wind rustling through straw, he was simultaneously overcome by two powerful feelings: the usual terror at the sudden advance of darkness and an unfamiliar feeling of admiration for someone who knew more than he did about the world.

    "So be it," said Hermit. "You jump inside and I'll build another one."

    "I don't know how to jump," Six-Toes answered in a quiet voice.

    "So long, then," said Hermit. Suddenly he pushed off from the earth with all his strength, soared up into the air, and disappeared behind his wall. Then the entire structure collapsed in on him, covering him with an even layer of sawdust and peat. The small hillock that was formed in this way carried on shuddering for a little while, and then a little opening appeared in its side. Six-Toes just caught a glimpse of Hermit's eyes glittering in it before total darkness descended.

    For as long as he could remember, Six-Toes had of course known all he needed to know about night. "It's a natural process," some said. "We should just get on with our work," said others, the majority. There were many shades of opinion, but the same thing happened to everyone regardless. When the light disappeared without any apparent cause, after struggling briefly and helplessly against the paralyzing terror, they all fell into a state of torpor, and when they came to--when the lights began shining again--they could remember almost nothing. When Six-Toes was still living in the community, the same thing had happened to him, but now, probably because his terror at the onset of night was overlaid and doubled by his terror at being alone, the standard salvation of a coma was denied him. In the distance the community had fallen silent, but he just went on sitting there, conscious, hunched over, beside the mound, crying quietly. He couldn't see a thing, and when Hermit's voice suddenly pierced the darkness, he was so frightened that he shat right there on the spot.

    "Hey, stop that banging, will you?" Hermit complained. "I can't sleep."

    "I'm not banging," Six-Toes answered in a quiet voice. "It's my heart. Talk to me for a bit, will you?"

    "What about?" asked Hermit.

    "Anything you like, just make it as long as you can."

    "How about the nature of fear, then?"

    "Oh, no, not that," squeaked Six-Toes.

    "Quiet!" hissed Hermit. "Or we'll have all the rats here in a moment."

    "Rats? What are they?" Six-Toes asked in cold fright.

    "Creatures of the night. And of the day too, for that matter."

    "Life has been cruel to me," whispered Six-Toes. "If only I had the right number of toes, I'd be sleeping with all the others. God, I'm so afraid.... Rats...."

    "Listen," said Hermit, "you keep on saying God this, God that--do they believe in God over there, then?"

    "God only knows. There is something, that's for sure, but just what, nobody knows. For instance, why does it get dark? If you like you can explain it by natural causes, of course. And if you go thinking about God, you'll never get anything done in this life ..."

    "So just what can you get done in this life?"

    "What a question! Why do you ask stupid questions, as if you don't know the answers already? Everyone tries as hard as he can to get to the trough. It's the law of life."

    "Okay. Then what's it all for?"

    "All what?"

    "You know, the universe, the sky, the earth, the suns, all of it."

    "What d'you mean, what for? That's just the way the world is."

    "What way is it?" Hermit asked in a curious voice.

    "Just the way it is. We move in space and time. According to the laws of life."

    "Where to?"

    "How should I know? It's the mystery of the ages. You're enough to drive anyone crazy."

    "You're the one who'd drive anyone crazy. No matter what we talk about, it's all the law of life or the mystery of the ages."

    "If you don't like it," said Six-Toes, offended, "then don't talk."

    "I wouldn't be talking if you weren't afraid of the dark."

    Six-Toes had completely forgotten about that. He focused on what he was feeling, and suddenly realized there was no fear there at all. This frightened him so much that he leapt to his feet and set off running blindly into the darkness, until his head slammed at full speed into the invisible Wall of the World.

    In the distance Six-Toes could hear Hermit's cackling laughter. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other, he began making his way towards it, the only sound in the silent, impenetrable darkness that surrounded him. When he reached the mound in which Hermit was ensconced, he lay down beside it without a word and tried to ignore the cold and go to sleep. He didn't even notice when he finally did.

Excerpted from 4 By Pelevin by Victor Pelevin. Copyright © 1994 by Victor Pelevin.
Translation copyright © 1998 Andrew Bromfield. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-08-20:
Young Russian author Pelevin (Omon Ra; The Yellow Arrow) demonstrates that Generation X is more of a post-Soviet Russian phenomenon than anything experienced by the youth of Western democracies. In this quartet of phantasmagorical short stories (originally published in Russian in 1994), the author drives home the creeping anxiety of a long-suffering nation awakened from a century of numbing repression, only to find the new reality is hardly an improvement. In his first story, a refugee named Six-Toes, cut off from his original "community," staggers around in a kind of mute despair, vainly awaiting some transformative nova called "The Decisive Stage." In the eerie allegory "The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII," a disembodied life force trapped within a utility shed struggles against the shackles of surrounding utilitarian objects (despite its bizarre metaphors, this story demonstrates the author's uncanny ability to project a literary Slavic gloom onto the most ordinary stage-settings). Pelevin pulls no punches with the metaphor woven into "Vera Pavlovna's Ninth Dream," in which a public toilet attendant finds her world transformed into a giddy commercial paradise, only to have a fountain of sewage plunge that world into a kind of septic Tartarus. "Tai Shou Chuan USSR" provides a sort of resigned look at Russian and Chinese Communist bureaucracy and the foul brew of propaganda, deception and corruption that they've showered on their citizenry. Pelevin's allegories are reminiscent of children's fairy tales in their fantastic depictions of worlds within worlds, solitary souls tossed helplessly among them. But the dark undercurrent the saga of a people lost between a doomed ideology and its floundering replacement is anything but simple. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, August 2001
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Unpaid Annotation
"Hermit and Six Toes"; "Vera Pavlovna's Ninth Dream"; "The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII"; and "Tai Shou Chuan USSR" are four characteristic stories by the young Russian virtuoso Victor Pelevin, here collected in a New Directions Bibelot edition.With a deadpan and cooly ironic voice that speaks of the phantasmagorical, the surreal, the grotesque and the absurd just as affectingly as Gogol did in his day, Victor Pelevin writes of the dark chaos of the New Russia. In one story, a public toilet attendant discovers in her tiled hovel the entranceway to an alternate reality; in another, a man walks through a city at night with a companion he isn't entirely sure isn't his own shadow. This slim volume offers first-time Pelevin readers a compelling taste of his bleakly comic genius.
Publisher Fact Sheet
Four stories by one of the most popular young writers to emerge from post-Glasnost Russia.
Table of Contents
Hermit and Six-Toesp. 1
The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XIIp. 45
Vera Pavlovna's Ninth Dreamp. 59
Tai Shou Chuan USSR (a Chinese Folk Tale)p. 85
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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