ELKOST International Literary Agency

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Krokodil, 2013

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Rights sold: Bulgaria - INFONET Media, Italy - ODOYA, Russia - AST

Krokodil, a homemade injectable opioid, gained its moniker from the excessive harms associated with its use, such as ulcerations, amputations and discolored scale-like skin. While a relatively new phenomenon, krokodil use is prevalent in Russia and the Ukraine, with at least 120,000 people estimated to have injected the drug in 2011.

Drug addiction was a subject matter or main set-up of many amazing novels: Mikhail Bulgakov´s Morphine, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, William Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Junky, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, to name only a few. Marina Akhmedova's new novel KROKODIL is the first to document the life of Russians addicted to this new powerful synthetic drug, which is now beginning its frightening march through Europe, and which soon threatens to spread throughout the globe. This deadly concoction made from cheap ingredients is powerfully addictive, quickly leading to a breakdown of personality while literally eating apart the flesh of addicted victims, turning them into living zombies in a matter of weeks.

In 2011, Marina Akhmedova spent four days in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, in the company of desomorphine concocters and users, whose harrowing experiences and damaged bodies are the stuff of nightmares. She was met with a picture of desperation, punctured by love, humanity and misplaced hope. The result of her experience was described in a harrowing piece of reportage journalism — perhaps unwisely, now banned in Russia (available in English on OpenDemocracy webpage: Snap goes the Crocodile).

Akhmedova's “KROKODIL” is placed in the same community of drug users. There are six main characters to the novel, all pertaining to the same ´sector´ (as drug dens are called in local argot), though obviously the main protagonist of the story is the drug itself. Krokodil is their most beloved friend and most hated enemy, their only motivational factor ruling over any situation, a silent killer holding their destinies in its cold hand.

The most powerful stylistic choice that sees Akhmedova’s cause triumph is her crafting of dialogue. Akhmedova shows rather than tells. To be more specific, Akhmedova allows her protagonists to tell, and deliver the atrocities of their experiences themselves, and the story is all the stronger for it. For it’s the speakers that articulate the horrors of their situation better than anyone else, be it the circular, and inevitably futile, nature of their existence, the ironic philosophy with which they live their lives, and the altogether sheer ludicrousness of what they consider normalcy. Implicit irony is a powerful device in literature, and Akhmedova wields it with purpose, for it is much more galling when the incongruity is derived ourselves rather than explained by the author.

Akhmedova's writing is entirely honest, almost brutally so. Yet Akhmedova is not afraid of adjectives, and the novel definitely is not without a certain lyricism. The reader is drawn into a dark, Grimm-like fable, with a raucous witch concocting a potion in a wood cabin. And - in true Grimm’s Brother fashion - there is no happy ending to the tale.