Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland

Novels

Путешествие Ханумана на Лолланд

Hanuman’s Travels (Novels, Russian)
Published by Avenarius, 2009, pp. 330

Andrei Ivanov is a Russian-speaking writer who was born and lives in Estonia. He has a very ordinary-sounding Russian name – it could easily be used to identify someone as a Russian in a Hollywood film – but his writing career has been truly unique. He is prolific, and almost every new book he writes wins a prize or several prizes in Estonia, Russia, and elsewhere. In the period between 2009 and 2014 his works won more nominations and awards than any other contemporary Russian-speaking writer. As well as this widespread recognition special mention should be given to the fact that he reached the Russian Booker shortlist twice, and won the highly prestigious NOS award.

What lies behind Ivanov’s success? He prefers to write about things which he is himself familiar with, and his writing speaks to today’s reader. He has the perspective of the ‘other’, which allows him to see everyday phenomena from an alternative viewpoint. What does it mean to be a Russian in Estonia? What does it mean to live in a state which is aspiring to join the EU? What is the standard of living in a refugee camp in a rich Nordic state? Complex contradictions, occasionally painful and provocative questions, but Ivanov has the desire, and sufficient courage and cleverness to consider them. A major artist doesn’t seek easy solutions.

‘Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland’ was Ivanov’s first novel, and it immediately propelled him to the stratosphere of contemporary Russian fiction. The book is partly fictional and partly autobiographical, being based on the writer’s experiences of life in a Danish refugee camp, where he spent a year or so just before and after the turn of the millennium. The two main protagonists of the novel – the Hindu Hanuman and the Russian Estonian Yevgeny – two friends who constantly bicker – try the patience of the camp inhabitants, the guards, and the citizens of the nearby town with their provocative behaviour. Sharp-witted and involved dialogues, an idiosyncratic sense of humour, and a recurrent metaphysical dimension add colour to the story.

On the one hand, the reader sees a contemporary picaresque novel unfold before them, with endless adventures, naturalistic scenes, and the motif of the road; on the other hand we are presented with a powerful, vivid, polemical work, which makes us ask if the same rules and laws apply the other side of the refugee camp gates. Hanuman and Yevgeny plan to flee before they are sent back to their home countries, as far away as possible, to a resort town where there are plenty of women, mind-altering substances and freedom. To Lolland. So what if Lolland is an island situated far out at sea and there is no guarantee that anyone will actually get there.  

‘Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland’ (2009) is the first novel in the writer’s so-called Scandinavian trilogy. The other parts are ‘Bizarre’ and ‘Confessions of a Sleepwalker’ (both 2014).  

Text by Igor Kotjuh

Translated by Matthew Hyde


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