Book name: Monday Starts on Saturday
Author: Boris and Arkady Strugatsky
Publisher: DAW Books (English)
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction
Publication Date: 1977 (English), 1965 (Russian)
Star Rating: 4/5
This Soviet-era novel by two brothers was originally published in 1964 and its later English translation, which is part of the SF Masterworks series, retains the flavour of its time.
Arkady was an editor and translate, whereas Boris worked as a computer mathematician. They collaborated on a number of works of fiction from the Fifties onwards, the most famous of which (‘Roadside Picnic’) was made into a film under the name ‘Stalker’.
When Monday Starts on Saturday opens, Privalov is a programmer, and he’s travelling home from Karelia when two hitchhikers flag him down and ask for a lift.
Car ownership was extremely limited in Soviet Russia, at least for those not high up in the Communist Party, so Privalov’s vehicle is rented.
During their journey, the hitchhikers persuade him to leave his existing work behind and join their research facility.
‘The National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy’ (NITWITT) combines all the essential features of real Russian laboratories of the early Sixties with the creative chaos of magic.
Nothing is too unusual, but everything must be explained by science, higher-order mathematics and computing power. This leads Privalov into some unlikely scenarios, and there is a persistent sense of unreality that many a Russian modernist author would be proud of.
Some of the projects, such as the disturbing sewing on of heads from one animal onto to the body of another and their attempts to reincarnate cadavers are based on real Russian experimentation. Others are inventions, but not less strange for that.
The chaos that underpins much of modern mathematics, and defies all attempts by computers to control it, bubbles over irrepressibly. The facility is far from being a safe place to work, though Privalov navigates through one surreal encounter after another just as many real-life Soviet academic has before him.
There is much dry comedy present in Monday Starts on Saturday. The subject matter was gruesome, but there was plenty of lightness of mood. The narrative moved through three self-contained stories, episodes that illustrate the strangeness of their lives.
Like any self-respecting postmodern novel, it also features a postscript and commentary written by Privalov before turning readers’ expectations on their heads by ending with a sincere and realist Author’s Note by Boris which provides an insight into the writing process and also how this funny novel managed to get through the ever-vigilant censorship process without receiving too much attention.
Apparently, they didn’t take it seriously: a glorious example of life imitating the art within its pages.
Folk tales remain central to an understanding of the Russian psyche, something that could be said of nations around the world. They are as important to the story of Monday Starts on Saturday as any scientific theory or mathematical process, though the novel contains plenty of those, too.
I really enjoyed Monday Starts on Saturday. The West saw translations aplenty of serious-minded literary works from the Soviet era, but never enough comedy.
Sometimes, when everything around you is truly ridiculous, all you have left to do is laugh.
Thank you for reading my review.
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