Monday, January 7, 2013
purchased from The Book Depository
Description from Goodreads:
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind. But the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory, the stuff of myth and legend. More than 20 years have passed since the last plane took off from the earth. Rusted railways lead into emptiness. The ether is void and the airwaves echo to a soulless howling where previously the frequencies were full of news from Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires. Man has handed over stewardship of the earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. Man's time is over. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on earth. They live in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity's last refuge. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters - or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct - the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line. It was one of the Metro's best stations and still remains secure. But now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. He holds the future of his native station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.
This book was recommended to me by several people and I've read reviews and I was curious to see if it lived up to all the hype. The basic description from Goodreads is pretty much all that is needed to understand the situation where the book begins. The story pretty straightforward - at first anyway. I really liked the premise and I had really high hopes for this one. My real problem with the book was the English translation, I think. There are also some editing issues that were a bit jarring while reading. I'm giving the author the benefit of the doubt here. Translations are always a problem and I think Russian translations can be particularly problematic.
In this post-apocalyptic world that Artyom lives in, the people of Moscow who were lucky enough to find their way into the Metro after the various bombings, which appear to have been both conventional and nuclear, have managed to survive and have established their own little cities or states within the Metro. Life is hard and there are many dark, unexplained things inside the Metro with the people. But, outside it is so much worse. The aftermath of the bombings and various poisoning of the area has created some horrible creatures that try to get into the Metro and conditions make it impossible for humans to stay out very long. Artyom begins a quest to get help for his station, VDNKh and on the way he meets unlikely friends and foes. For the most part, it does seem like a typical quest story.
I found the book to feel very dark and closed in - much like life must be like living inside the Metro. Unfortunately, I think that the book would have had much more atmosphere if the translation had been better. There were several places where I thought things dragged on too long, but that too may have been a translation issue.
I did like the way issues of religion, superstition, rumor, legend and beliefs in general were explained. I found Artyom's thoughts regarding his own somewhat mystical experiences to be interesting and handled in a pretty realistic manner. I liked the way Artyom encountered many differing views of the Metro and the war and how each statelet or city had its own personality. His experiences force Artyom to rethink his ideas about his world and people. He learns and grows on his journey - as he should, since this is a quest story.
I thought it took too long to get to the most powerful idea of the book - the very end of the book, in fact. But, perhaps, there were more hints in the original Russian version. I thought the idea was powerful and poignant, but then it was the end of the book. It was kind of gut wrenching and depressing. I wonder if it would flow better in Russian.