Reviewed by Matt Quinlan
by Anna Efimenko
2020, ISBN: 9785041697280
What do you get when you cross contemporary Russian philosophy, murder, and labyrinthian analysis? One answer is Anna Efimenko’s 125 Rus. Efimenko’s 125 Rus is a genre-bending classic between a modern-day Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and a Russian Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
From the very get-go, starting in Moscow, Efimenko immediately draws on parallels in these two books, naturally starting with Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Her main character, Ajax, a writer by heart and mute by disability, seamlessly mirrors Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin, a similarly enabling character with his own socially isolating disability–epilepsy, throughout. Ajax, too, then like Myshkin, also fears to take the first steps necessary for his own growth. But, luckily, and also against his wishes, Efimenko saves us the trouble of waiting and immediately thrusts him into adventure.
“My father threw me out of home in early June, at the beginning of summer,” Efimenko writes of Ajax on the very first page. From here, our unnerved and unconfident hero heads straight to the airport (away from his abusive, alcoholic father) and randomly without any real plans buys a one-way ticket to the far away lands of Eastern Russia–Vladivostok.
For the uninitiated into Russian culture though, it’s worth noting, Vladivostok may be even more confused than Ajax. Having been under Chinese, then Japanese, and then only most recently Russian rule, Vladivostok and the whole region surrounding it, really, have had both their street names and histories effectively erased, rewritten, and erased again only to be repeated an endless number of times.
As Ajax evidently arrives at this confused place, things don’t get any easier for him. He immediately mistakes his luggage for another’s and ends up with not his bag, full of water soaked clothes (Ajax hadn’t any time to dry them before he left), but someone else’s luggage full of notes and a voice recorder.
At this point then, the story begins to take a deeper psychological turn (similar to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Ajax loses himself, his sense of reality, and what’s just a story as he embarks with the tape recorder further into the befuddling city of Vladivostok. It sure doesn’t help him either that the voice recorder he’s found is spouting off tales of murder!
Are they real? We are left to ask.
“‘If the police find the murderer, Mira, you’ll be in prison.’
She [Not a spoiler: Mira] only grinned back,” the voice recorder eerily tells us (pg. 45).
With this and also Efimenko’s many changes in medium, much like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Efimenko jars us loose from the sense of what we are reading–is it a recording, is it real, is it just a description of a place, or are these just thoughts–and thus our own reality, just like Ajax’s, is jarred loose too.
It’s only later when Ajax runs into the characters from the recording that things begin to make sense.
Or do they?
Or does he?
Or was it all just in his head?
“An inconvenient, purely practical auto for transportation of oversized stuff. It was a Hilux, number 645 produced by Toyota.
‘Hi, what happened to you?’” a character from the voice recording finally interrupts Ajax’s reading (pg. 93).
Whether it’s pure thoughts, a journal entry, a voice recording, or even a technical description of the city (of which there are many), Efimenko’s 125 Rus is a captivating read. If you’re a Dostoevskian existentialist, an armchair philosopher, or just interested in international indie writing, 125 Rus is for you. Just don’t forget yourself reading it!
About the reviewer: Some people dream of studying abroad on the picturesque shores of Italy, others get stuck on their study abroad in Russia. Matt Quinlan is an American writer, copywriting and writing fiction in the Northern Capital of the biggest country on Earth. After coronavirus, he plans on getting stuck there again. Stockholm syndrome for a country of extremes, landscapes, lifestyles, or otherwise, is apparently his thing now.