Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 1, 2016

The Faint-hearted Bolshevik, by Lorenzo Silva, translated by Nick Caistor and Isabelle Kaufeler #BookReview

The Faint-hearted BolshevikJuly is Spanish Lit month at Winston’s Dad so I checked my Spanish TBR shelf at Goodreads and chose the one with the most intriguing title.  The Faint-hearted Bolshevik by prize-winning author Lorenzo Silva is apparently required reading for bankers, has been made into a film, and has also been recommended as a text for senior school students because it’s a contemporary Spanish classic.  (They’d never get away with that here in Oz, there’s a lot of bad language in this book, especially at the beginning where the narrator is really angry.)

The plot revolves around a narrator who uses different names to suit the occasion, and he has good reason to be evasive about his identity.  He is an investment banker who hates his job and finds modern life meaningless.  The story begins when he is caught in heavy traffic and in a moment of inattention drives into the car in front of him.  No one is hurt and the damage is minor, but the driver, who identifies herself as Sonsoles when they exchange names, goes into an abusive rage.  This is the trigger for the narrator to engineer a little ‘amusement’ in his boring life, and he decides to have his revenge.

The Faint-hearted Bolshevik challenges its readers to reconcile distaste for this stalker with his rather attractive qualities, one of which is that he likes Schubert.  I’m listening to one of the stalker’s favourite pieces, the Trio 100, as I write this, and I listened to his Fifth Symphony as I loafed in bed in the morning while I finished the book.  (I couldn’t listen to the Winterreise because it’s a song cycle and I can’t concentrate on writing when there are words to distract me).

I also found myself charmed by this protagonist’s instincts for empathy:

Of all the striking photographs in the world, there is one that inspires awe regardless of ideology or prejudice: the one of the four Russian grand-duchesses, the daughters of Nicholas II who were put to the sword (of whatever sort) by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg after the Revolution.  It doesn’t matter whether you are an atheist or orthodox, reactionary communist or an econotechnoliberal, a supporter of the monarchy or someone who believes that every last drop of blue blood should be poured down the drain as soon as possible.  Those four perfect faces, those four proud and angelic children, forever united by their tragic destiny, leave an indelible impact on whatever small piece of heart we may have left. (p. 60)

However, this empathy for those four perfect faces, those four proud and angelic children takes a disconcerting Lolita-esque turn when the narrator discovers that his victim has a fifteen year old daughter.  She, like many fifteen-year-old girls, thinks she is more sophisticated than she really is, so she is fortunate that this narrator is a romantic at heart.  There are moments of sly humour when the author portrays the discomfiture of his would-be seducers, for yes, there are two of them, but the reader experiences another shift in perspective when this thirty-year-old man realises he does not mean the girl any harm.

Unfortunately that is not the case with some low-life characters who happen upon the scene, and the denouement is a shocking commentary on modern life in large anonymous cities.  And I think this is why the book is a worthwhile choice for senior school students, and a salutary read for anyone else.

Author: Lorenzo Silva
Title: The Faint-hearted Bolshevik
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Isabelle Kaufeler
Publisher: Hispabooks Publishing, 2010, first published in 1997
ISBN: 9788494094828
Source: personal library, purchased from Fishpond.

Available from Fishpond: The Faint-hearted Bolshevik


Responses

  1. Interesting review, Lisa. I can understand why this story has been made into a film as it sounds ideal for the big screen. I keep hearing great things about Hispa Books – must take a good look at their list at some point.

    • They’ve got some interesting titles:)
      I wish I could remember who recommended this book to me!

  2. Another Hispa book gem they have brought some interesting books ok . Can imagine it would make a good film

    • It wasn’t you who recommended it Stu?

  3. This sounds like my sort of thing. You mention that it is on high school curriculums, but did it feel YA to you? (bad language aside?)

  4. No, it didn’t feel YA to me. The narrator was immature for a man in his thirties, but that would be one of the discussion points, I think.

    • ok, that makes it sound more promising then

  5. I’ve just read this and went looking for other commentary on it! Wow! Certainly not YA and certainly not for the faint-hearted. A terrific commentary on the dehumanising effects of our economic system. I was ver struck by his saying at the end, ‘for the first time in my life I have the impression of having been something’ Because he actually felt something, and suffered on account of someone else.

    • Not YA because of the language? or because of the theme? Because I bet there would be YA readers who’d find this a most engaging text and might be reading it under the desk while their teachers LOL plod through something less salty.
      Over time, I’ve been watching the series Un Village Francaise and we have just got to liberation in 1944 when some of the collaborators are having to confront what they’ve done and feel a bit of empathy for others. On screen, you can see it in the characters’ faces when they feel something for someone else for the first time…


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