The Man Who Couldn't Die

The Tale of an Authentic Human Being

Olga Slavnikova. Translated by Marian Schwartz.

Columbia University Press

The Man Who Couldn't Die

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Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231185950

248 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $14.95£11.99

Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231185943

248 Pages

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Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231546416

248 Pages

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The Man Who Couldn't Die

The Tale of an Authentic Human Being

Olga Slavnikova. Translated by Marian Schwartz.

Columbia University Press

In the chaos of early-1990s Russia, a paralyzed veteran’s wife and stepdaughter conceal the Soviet Union’s collapse from him in order to keep him—and his pension—alive, until it turns out the tough old man has other plans. An instant classic of post-Soviet Russian literature, Olga Slavnikova’s The Man Who Couldn’t Die tells the story of how two women try to prolong a life—and the means and meaning of their own lives—by creating a world that doesn’t change, a Soviet Union that never crumbled.

After her stepfather’s stroke, Marina hangs Brezhnev’s portrait on the wall, edits the Pravda articles read to him, and uses her media connections to cobble together entire newscasts of events that never happened. Meanwhile, her mother, Nina Alexandrovna, can barely navigate the bewildering new world outside, especially in comparison to the blunt reality of her uncommunicative husband. As Marina is caught up in a local election campaign that gets out of hand, Nina discovers that her husband is conspiring as well—to kill himself and put an end to the charade. Masterfully translated by Marian Schwartz, The Man Who Couldn’t Die is a darkly playful vision of the lost Soviet past and the madness of the post-Soviet world that uses Russia’s modern history as a backdrop for an inquiry into larger metaphysical questions.
Darkly sardonic . . . . oddly timely, for there are all sorts of understated hints about voter fraud, graft, payoffs, and the endless promises of politicians who have no intention of keeping them. It is also deftly constructed, portraying a world and a cast of characters who are caught between the orderly if drab world of old and the chaos of the 'new rich' in a putative democracy. . . . Slavnikova is a writer American readers will want to have more of. Kirkus Reviews
A startling phantasmagoric dystopia, award-winning author Slavnikova’s original and challenging vision of Russia’s tumultuous 1990s ruminates on death, temporality, memory, illusions, and the persistence of an inert past in a chaotic present. This unforgettable novel cannot help but leave the post-Bond reader both shaken and stirred. Helena Goscilo, The Ohio State University
The Man Who Couldn’t Die is an overlooked masterpiece of post-Soviet prose by one of contemporary Russia’s most important authors. It reveals how Slavnikova’s descriptions (and Schwartz’s English equivalent) belong alongside those of Vladimir Nabokov, Iurii Olesha, and Nikolai Gogol as truly revolutionary in Russian prose. Benjamin Sutcliffe, Miami University

About the Author

Olga Slavnikova was born in 1957 in Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg). She is the author of several award-winning novels, including A Dragonfly Enlarged to the Size of a Dog and 2017, which won the 2006 Russian Booker prize and was translated into English by Marian Schwartz (2010).

Marian Schwartz translates Russian contemporary and classic fiction, including Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and is the principal translator of Nina Berberova.