(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Burn tells the story of the Soviet generation that came of age in the years just after the death of Joseph Stalin. There are five more or less interchangeable heroes—or rather antiheroes—all members of Vassily Aksyonov’s generation, all liberals, all superstars in their professions: Kunitser the physicist, Sabler the musician, Malkolmov the physician, Khvastishchev the sculptor, and Pantalei the writer. The disillusioned heroes have retreated from the successes of the socially concerned, optimistic 1960’s into alcohol, sex, and work. Although the men do not know one another and lead independent lives, they have certain virtually identical and seemingly concurrent parallel experiences. Among them are encounters with an almost-recognized figure from the past who triggers flashbacks to a time when the five protagonists were one person, the teenage Tolya von Steinbock. Moreover, the identity of each of the heroes continuously revolves into that of another at the end of each episode.

On the evening of the novel’s first day, the collective protagonist encounters his old friend Patrick Thunderjet. Their drinking expands into a binge that takes the hero and Thunderjet through a set of riotous experiences ending in a police drunk tank in the Crimea. Too valuable to Soviet society to be written off, the collective hero is sent to a detox hospital, cured, and discharged.

Three years pass. The sobered heroes continue their lives engaged in major creative projects, including a secret satellite project; a miraculous serum, Lymph D; a gigantic marble sculpture of a dinosaur “Humility”; a jazz-rock fusion breakthrough; and the writing of a play, or perhaps The Burnitself. Each of these men has a professional colleague, a close friend from the early 1960’s, when a radiant new future seemed imminent. The old friends have compromised with the renewed conservative government and risen to positions of power and influence. Judas-like, these former friends betray the heroes, who, at the moment of crisis, return...

(The entire section is 837 words.)