Big In ... Moscow July/August 2013

Russia's Hottest Satirical Novelist Takes On the Anti-Putin Opposition

How the country is reacting to Victor Pelevin's latest novel, Batman Apollo

Rarely seen in public, and sporting dark glasses when he does appear, the novelist Victor Pelevin could be described as Russia’s answer to Thomas Pynchon, crossed with Kurt Vonnegut. In best sellers like Generation P and S.N.U.F.F., he has lampooned everyone from Kremlin officials to Moscow’s oligarchs to American presidents.

In his most recent offering, Batman Apollo, a satirical vampire saga released in March, it’s Russia’s opposition leaders who are painted as fools, much to the chagrin of anti-Putin activists. (The plot features real-life opposition figures Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak, and the art pranksters Pussy Riot, whom Pelevin jokes were originally named Sabertoothed Cunts.)

“Expect [Batman Apollo] with horror. Imagine how it will reflect all of us out there,” Navalny tweeted before the book was published. One writer complained in the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta that the protest movement comes off as “small and vile,” while a piece in the business daily Kommersant zeroed in on Pelevin’s portrayal of opposition leaders as not just half-witted but—more damning—“glamorous.”

To which list of traits one might add touchy. Finding themselves on the pointy end of Pelevin’s spear, various opposition sympathizers retaliated with insults of their own. Pelevin’s parody, they said, was cheap and full of “stupid puns.” “He understands that he is at least a year late with his satire, but he still tries to be witty,” Ilya Faibisovich, a prominent opposition journalist, sniffed in Snob magazine. “It seems at the very end that Victor Pelevin is extremely envious of the girls [in Pussy Riot], who, unlike himself, have already become world celebrities.”

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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