Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: August 16, 2022
by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Max Lawton
An NYRB Classics Original
Telluria is set in the future, when a devastating holy war between Europe and Islam has succeeded in returning the world to the torpor and disorganization of the Middle Ages. Europe, China, and Russia have all broken up. The people of the world now live in an array of little nations that are like puzzle pieces, each cultivating its own ideology or identity, a neo-feudal world of fads and feuds, in which no one power dominates. What does, however, travel everywhere is the appetite for the special substance tellurium. A spike of tellurium, driven into the brain by an expert hand, offers a transforming experience of bliss; incorrectly administered, it means death.
The fifty chapters of Telluria map out this brave new world from fifty different angles, as Vladimir Sorokin, always a virtuoso of the word, introduces us to, among many other figures, partisans and princes, peasants and party leaders, a new Knights Templar, a harem of phalluses, and a dog-headed poet and philosopher who feasts on carrion from the battlefield. The book is an immense and sumptuous tapestry of the word, carnivalesque and cruel, and Max Lawton, Sorokin’s gifted translator, has captured it in an English that carries the charge of Cormac McCarthy and William Gibson.
The wildly inventive dystopian satire of Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria, translated by Max Lawton confirms that Putin’s Russia has met its (self-exiled) literary nemesis: it’s Orwell, Vonnegut and Calvino in one.
—Boyd Tonkin, Books of the Year, The Spectator (UK)
In Sorokin, often the subtext speaks as loudly or even louder than the surface text all on its own, creating a kind of set of chutes and ladders to explore, framed in the playfulness and syllabic magic the author imbues not just into sentences, but into the mind behind them. . . . the elegance of the form. . . corresponds so well with the apparent premise . . . that it feels as if we’ve finally struck a noble balance between signifier and signified, enough so that once the book is over, the book still feels open, as if it’s being written while we speak.
—Blake Butler, Dividual
Sorokin is both an incinerator and archaeologist of the forms that precede him: a literary radical who’s a dutiful student of tradition, and a devout Christian whose works mercilessly mock the Orthodox Church. It’s this constant oscillation between certainty and precarity, stability and chaos, beauty and devastation, homage and pastiche, plenitude and rupture that makes Sorokin’s fiction unique.
—Aaron Timms, The New Republic
Sorokin is funny. His phantasmagoric tapestry seethes with bizarre libidinal energies that leave nothing un-desecrated. . . Like an antidote to this linguistic prison, Telluria unleashes lexical anarchy. Vladimir Sorokin pledges allegiance to language by obliterating it entirely.
—Allison Bulger, Words Without Borders
Vladimir Sorokin’s 2013 novel Telluria, in its first English translation thanks to the estimable talents of Max Lawton, is one of the best contemporary novels I’ve read in a long time.
—Edwin Turner, Biblioklept
Sorokin is a moralist in the misanthropic spirit of Swift, attacking his era’s social and political life through the medium of fantastical tales set in speculative futures. The subversion of totalitarianism is hardwired into every word he writes, but in a provocatively improper way. . . . Sorokin the moralist is intent on attacking the corruption of language and thought, as much as violations of the social contract, by laying bare the inauthenticity of these self-deceiving declarations that go unchallenged in their context.
—Victoria Nelson, The TLS
A shrewd novelist. Sorokin crafts absurdly dystopic satires, ones that are so demented, so obscene, so blasphemous, and so visceral in its representation of Russian and Soviet existence that they force us to consider humanity’s devotion to mass insanity. . . . Sorokin is also always ahead, frighteningly so.
—Arya Roshanian, Gawker
Telluria is as much a feast for the senses as it is the mind. Its 50 idiosyncratic chapters — varying greatly in style and voice — unfold kaleidoscopically into a single, giant and multi-dimensional tapestry. Like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Telluria is stuffed with a carnival of characters. . . . Prescient. As more of his works become available to English-speaking audiences, we will soon learn what other futures Sorokin has prophesied.
—Matthew Janney, Financial Times
One of the cornerstones of Sorokin’s second period, Telluria. . . is perhaps the most fully articulated vision of Sorokin’s New Medieval aesthetic universe. The English-speaking world has already been treated to two works in this cycle, Day of the Oprichnik and The Blizzard. . . and while those books have already become modern classics, neither matches Telluria's towering narrative ambition and mind-boggling stylistic diversity. . . . a high-concept feat of world-building that captures a capacious sociological portrait of Sorokin’s brave new world . . . Telluria pummels its readers with a such a dazzling kaleidoscope of shifting narratives and fantastic images, it is almost as if the book itself is a hallucinogenic tellurium nail.
—Ben Hooyman, Los Angeles Review of Books
The novel, mixing elements of speculative fiction against a feudal backdrop, typifies Sorokin’s defiance of convention.
—Matthew Broaddus, Publishers Weekly
Telluria. . . is a dystopian fable set in the near future, as Europe has devolved into medieval feudal states and people are addicted to a drug called tellurium. Through the smokescreen of a twisted fantasy teeming with centaurs, robot bandits and talking dogs who eat corpses, Sorokin smuggles in a sly critique of contemporary Russia’s turn toward totalitarianism.
—Alexandra Alter, New York Times
In Sorokin, Russia found its Pynchon.
—Vladislav Davidzon, Bookforum
Telluria describes a time when comprehensive visions have failed. Heterogeneous societies have crumbled. The world no longer tolerates diversity. The very idea of grand unifying politics, an ‘end of history,’ seems ridiculous. Pluralism, as an ideal, or even as a concept, has disappeared. Members of one society, social class, or economic stratum have little incentive or opportunity to interact with others.
—Bradley Gorski, Public Books
Searing, effervescent prose . . . Sorokin builds paranormal worlds in which, disquietingly, we find illuminating rhymes with our own.
—Matt Janney, Calvert Journal