In the warring, neo-feudal society of this cross-genre novel for fans of Cormac McCarthy and William Gibson, the greatest treasure is a dose of tellurium—a magical drug administered by a spike through the brain.
Telluria incorporates dramatically different literary styles...Alongside these more politically charged chapters, there is a fantasy tale involving drug-pushing dwarves and a rewriting of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl—'I saw the worst minds of my generation torn out of black madness by tellurium'...Sorokin’s interest in form becomes less about genre and more about registers of speech; he inserts elements of Old Church Slavonic to imbue the setting with its medieval atmosphere, but also to show a language that should hold the highest authority—a religious one—being mangled by political opportunists, warmongers, and the simply deranged...Telluria, in its formal eclecticism and beautiful strangeness, reads like a microcosm of Sorokin’s chaotic and genre-spanning career...His disorienting prose forces the mind to react—to focus, to sharpen—and urges us to be on guard against revered forms and the literary conventions of authority...His work reminds us that when people in power talk shit, it is the rest of us who have to eat it.
The idiosyncrasies of Sorokin’s fiction are not only a matter of style; his plots also often resist easy summary. In both form and content, Telluria is perhaps the strangest, most unstraightforward Sorokin novel yet ... a story with no happy endings, but moments of fleeting relief. The fragmentary structure of the novel emphasizes the narrative irresolution: Telluria is not told through the voice of a single narrator but dispersed across 50 vignettes that introduce us to different dimensions of this strange—and strangely recognizable—new world. Some of these vignettes function like relatively conventional short stories, while others are single-page explosions of decontextualized verbiage. The overall effect is submersive and subversive: The reader is denied the life raft of narrative coherence, and though points of contact between the different fragments do exist, any semblance of linearity is rubbed out the moment it appears ... In prose that slips from humorlessly insistent bureaucratese to epistolary tenderness, from techno-religious uplift to soft-focus chat room sleaze, the novel moves from the 'halls of power' to the 'bunks and shitholes' of this new world ... there is no escape from the chaos of history, and the novel’s twisting, relentless sentences—rendered by Lawton into a wonderfully liquid English—enact this entrapment ... reads as a chronicle of projects forestalled, exits that become entrances, horizons glimpsed but never attained, and advances that lead back to their point of departure ... The task of Sorokin’s reader is not to make sense of his violently uncertain worlds, but to surrender to them.
In the novel, Sorokin’s retro-futuristic projection of Russia has turned away from 'the collective West,' crumbling into a number of sovereign republics...The fragmentation of the fictional Russian state is accompanied by a parallel atomization of literary form...The novel unfolds in 50 chapters, each written from a completely new perspective, in a completely different style...The result is a high-concept feat of world-building that captures a capacious sociological portrait of Sorokin’s brave new world — integrating snapshots from the lives of everyone, from paupers to presidents...This narrative fragmentation contains a profound political and philosophical dimension...A decade ago, when the novel was being written, Sorokin sensed something was amiss with Europe’s quasi-utopian vision of a globalized world...In those days, when hopeful Fukuyamists still roamed the earth, Telluria emerged as a contrary vision, positing a future of regressing democracies, splintering states, and failed ideological symbiosis in the international marketplace of ideas...In Telluria, all the conflicts of the past are recapitulated in the future: the East goes to great lengths to isolate itself from Western liberalism, denizens of the sovereign republics organize revolutions to reestablish communism, and the same old bad blood between the Christian and Islamic worlds reignites a new wave of crusades...History is revealed to be a cycle of vicious recurrences with no utopian end in sight.