Author: Vadim Babenko

Translated From Russian By Christopher Lovelace and Vadim Babenko

Publisher: Ergo Sum Publishing

ISBN: 978-99957-43-05-8: 978-99957-42-06-5: 978-99957-42-07-2

One of the striking features of the Russian language is its richness and this is particularly in evidence when presenting different shades of human feelings as love, sadness, tenderness, happiness, humor and revenge. It is this richness that Vadim Babenko has translated into English with his novel A Simple Soul which was nominated for the Russian "National Bestseller 2010" Long list as well as the Russian "Big Book 2010”- Long list. Although the plot may seem to be a trifle absurd and even difficult to get into, I nonetheless can't say enough about Babenko's amazing power of descriptions especially with his his splendidly depicted characters. You also have to admire the manner in which he peppers the story with several hilarious scenes that accentuate the buffoonery of some of his characters.

The principal plot focuses on two characters, a young attractive Muscovite, Elizaveta Andreyevna Bestuzheva and Timofey Tsarkov. As our story unfolds, we learn Elizaveta has been receiving roses from an unknown source, mysterious phone calls, and to top it all off, she is being stalked. Timofey, who was a boyfriend and classmate of Elizaveta, now lives in Sivoldaisk where he moved after saving the life of an unconscious man who lay helplessly outside a bus stop. Apparently, the man he saved is a member of the Russian underworld and he was quite grateful that Timofey came to his rescue. When the mobster, or as he is called the patrón, returns to his native Sivoldaisk, he takes Timofey along with him as his personal aide.

During the ensuing years in Sivoldaisk Timofey becomes quite successful, however, as he states, “disaster, like good fortune, came out of nowhere, in the form of the patrón's daughter, Maya” who falls madly in love with him and is determined to marry him. Frightened at the thought that if he rejects Maya, he will anger her father to the point that his life would be in danger, he concocts a plan to marry someone else. He remembers Elizaveta, whom he has not seen in seven years and engages someone to track her down. With the help of a ghost writer, Timofey writes a beautiful romantic love letter to Elizaveta which she receives from a complete stranger. In the letter, Timofey apologizes for having jilted her and beckons her to reunite with him in Sivoldaisk. Elizaveta accepts but is clueless about Timofey's elaborate cockamamie plan and doesn't realize what danger looms ahead for her. Perhaps, there is even a hint of revenge somewhere in the back of her mind?

Okay, if you take this at face value, it sounds like a romantic journey. It is, but there is more to it when Babenko throws in two sub-plots, one involving an American Businessman, Frank White Jr. who is duped into purchasing a map that supposedly will lead him to a hidden treasure and the second concerning a Russian, Nikolai Kramskoy who is an occult specialist helping a client.

Sometimes it is quite tricky for an author to introduce his novel that had been written in a foreign language to an English-speaking audience. One reason is that the reader, due to a lack of knowledge of the novel's original language, may be unable to ascertain whether the translation is good, bad, or even if the yarn has lost its way. Consequently, we are at the mercy of the translator's skill. Nonetheless, without commenting on the quality of the translation of A Simple Soul, I have to admit that I was not in the least put off by its English rendering, which often has not been the case with several translated novels I have read in the past.

Babenko's tale is certainly rambunctious with its variety of characters who are tense with action, and in some instances even magical yet they are also human with all of their flaws. Moreover, notwithstanding that the plot may seem to be off-center or unusual, it still provoked many questions and drew me in deeper, piquing my imagination and asking myself could this really happen?

No doubt, Babenko must have really enjoyed the challenge of stitching together this crazy quilt of literary entertainment where we see a bit of everything including slapstick, romance, farce, social satire and danger. My one qualm about this novel, however, is that I felt it was overwritten by about one hundred pages. Some of the chapters could have easily been omitted without affecting the plot and this would have made for a far more entertaining experience.

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