ELKOST International Literary Agency

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Cool Blue Blood, 2011

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Rights sold to: France - GALLIMARD, Italy - ATMOSPHERE LIBRI, Macedonia - ANTOLOG, Russia - EKSMO, Portugal - GRADIVA, Spain - AUTOMATICA

2012 Russian Student Booker Award winner
2011 Znamya Literary Magazine Prize winner
2011 Big Book Literary Award nominee

 

Buida’s Cool Blue Blood is filled with literary allusions, peculiar characters, and odd happenings: on the first page, a fly-catching elderly actress with the not-so-common name Ida gets up when the clock rings three in Africa. All this in a Russian town called Chudov, a name a little longer than чудо (miracle or wonder) and a little shorter than чудовище (monster). Africa, it turns out, is the name of the building where Ida lives: it was formerly the bordello known as Тело и дело—two rhyming words that mean body and deed—where Ida’s mother worked. Ida’s nephew, whom she calls Friday, narrates the book, telling stories about Ida, whom Buida based on actress Valentina Karavaeva. Meaning Blue Blood is a fictionalized, quirkily embroidered biography of Karavaeva filtered through a character’s childhood and adult observations. The nickname Friday is just one piece of a series of references to Robinson Crusoe.

“Actress” sounds glamorous but Ida’s life is filled with pain: a brief marriage to an Englishman, an accident that ruins her film career by making her face look like a broken plate, the Stalinist repression, and the sudden appearance of a former husband’s wife and child. As Ida likes to say, “Happiness makes you fat.” She eats little and smokes 10 cigarettes a day, something memorable because of Friday’s habit of repeating lists of objects important to characters. Blue Blood also contains dark, Soviet-era transformations of fairy tale elements: Ida leaves home, returns home, handles numerous difficult tasks, and marries. There is villainy on many levels, and there is even a kiss (from a general, no less) worthy of the one that awoke Sleeping Beauty.

Buida works in references to higher literature, Dostoevsky’s Netochka Nezvanova being one of the most obvious examples. Beyond that, Buida offers a mention of people as “humiliated and insulted”, a child called Grushen’ka, and a character likened to a Dostoevskian pleasure-seeker. Beyond Dostoevsky, Ida plays Nina Zarechnaia in Chekhov’s Seagull. The name Zarechnaia (on the other side of the river), certainly suits Ida, who is clearly her own person, her own myth. One more: Ida recites Romeo and Juliet for hospital patients, improvising as needed, thus emphasizing characters’ storytelling powers as she tells of tragedy and suffering, something she says benefits those who come after us… All these should be read in a broad context—the family of all humanity—since Ida is childless and Buida populates his novel with orphans and broken families.

The metaphor of blue blood also flows through the novel: Ida’s actress friend Serafima tells her red blood is hot and makes the head spin with ideas, but cooler blue blood is a more controlled, self-possessed mastery, “an artist’s self-imposed Judgment Day”—something Serafima says is both a gift and a curse. Buida’s novel is also a gift and a curse, a book that contains so much to consider, feel, and cross-reference that it doesn’t let go or lend itself to quick analysis. The long list of big topics left uncovered includes death (e.g. Ida’s work with girls who release doves at funerals), purpose in life, a touch of something gothic, Chudov’s “Pavlov’s Dog” café, nightmares, and acting, which has subtopics like mimesis and a list of Ida’s various names and roles. Ida’s roles include parts she plays in her personal home movie archive as well as “Ida,” a name she selects for herself as a child instead of going through life as Tanya.

This text contains excerpts from the review published in Lizok's Bookshelf blog (http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com)