Their Four Hearts

Their Four Hearts

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By Vladimir Sorokin

Translated by Max Lawton

Illustrated by Gregory Klassen

ISBN: 9781628973969

Publication Date: 4/26/22

A novel that reportedly caused a walkout upon publication, this grotesque, absurdist work by Russia's de Sade follows four individuals set upon a common goal of destruction and violence.

In many respects, Their Four Hearts is a book of endings and final things. Vladimir Sorokin wrote it in the year the Soviet Union collapsed and then didn’t write fiction for ten years after completing it––his next book being the infamous Blue Lard, which he wrote in 1998. Without exaggerating too much, one might call it the last book of the Russian twentieth-century and Blue Lard the first book of the Russian twenty-first century. It is a novel about the failure of the Soviet Union, about its metaphysical designs, and about the violence it produced, but presented as God might see it or Bataille might write it.

Their Four Hearts follows the violent and nonsensical missions carried out by a group of four characters who represent Socialist Realist archetypes: Seryozha, a naive and optimistic young boy; Olga, a dedicated female athlete; Shtaube, a wise old man; and Rebrov, a factory worker and a Stakhanovite embodying Soviet manhood. However, the degradation inflicted upon them is hardly a Socialist Realist trope. Are the acts of violence they carry out a more realistic vision of what the Soviet Union forced its “heroes” to live out? A corporealization and desacralization of self-sacrificing acts of Soviet heroism? How the Soviet Union truly looked if you were to strip away the ideological infrastructure? As we see in the long monologues Shtaube performs for his companions––some of which are scatological nonsense and some of which are accurate reproductions of Soviet language––Sorokin is interested in burrowing down to the libidinal impulses that fuel a totalitarian system and forcing the reader to take part in them in a way that isn’t entirely devoid of aesthetic pleasure.

As presented alongside Greg Klassen’s brilliant charcoal illustrations, which have been compared to the work of Bruno Schulz, this angular work of fiction becomes a scatological storybook-world that the reader is dared to immerse themselves in.

Other Books by Vladimir Sorokin

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"Generously spiced with filthy and vulgar terms... an absurdist work, a veritable encyclopedia of... the bizarre." —Liza Rozovsky

"Sorokin’s sudden exposure is long overdue as he is probably both the most acclaimed and the most controversial author in Russia today, hailed by critics as a ‘living classic’ even as his subject matter takes the tradition of Russian grotesque into areas Gogol or even the Stalin-era absurdist Daniil Kharms never dared venture." —Daniel Kalder, Publishing Perspectives

“Sorokin is widely regarded as one of Russia’s most inventive writers”The New York Times

“His books are like entering a crazy nightmare, and I mean that as a compliment,” —Gary Shteyngart

“ extraordinary writer—a brash, Swiftian ventriloquist whose best work spars ably with the Russian greats of the last century and a half.” The Nation

“Sorokin, global literature’s postmodern provocateur, is both a savage satirist and a consummate showman” —Dustin Illingworth, The New York Times Book Review

“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

Biographical Information

Vladimir Sorokin was born in a small town outside of Moscow in 1955. He trained as an engineer at the Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas but turned to art and writing, becoming a major presence in the Moscow underground of the 1980s. His work was banned in the Soviet Union, and his first novel, The Queue, was published by the famed émigré dissident Andrei Sinyavsky in France in 1985. In 1992, Sorokin’s Their Four Hearts was short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize; in 1999, the publication of Blue Lard led to public demonstrations against the book and demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer; in 2001, he received the Andrei Bely Award for outstanding contributions to Russian literature. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Sorokin is also the author of the screenplays for Moscow, The Kopeck, and 4, and of the libretto for Leonid Desyatnikov’s The Children of Rosenthal, the first new opera to be commissioned by the Bolshoi Theater since the 1970s. His most recent novel is Legacy. He and his wife split their time between Berlin and Vnukovo, a town outside of Moscow.

Max Lawton is a translator, novelist, and musician. Born in Brussels, Belgium, he has translated many books by the novelist Vladimir Sorokin. Lawton is currently writing his doctoral dissertation on phenomenology and the twentieth-century novel in the Slavic Languages department at Columbia University, where he also teaches Russian.

Gregory Klassen earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and did advanced study at Kunst Akademie Dusseldorf, Germany. He was one of the last artists to study under Gerhard Richter in the 1990s. He has exhibited at galleries and museums internationally.