Sankya — Zakhar Prilepin, 2006

Sankya opens with a demonstrations lead by The Founders, a revolutionary outfit. What begins as a political statement quickly descends into street vandalism as the police crush the protest. After escaping arrest, Sankya, the titular character and member of The Founders, struggles to escape the policeʼs grasp. Unsurprisingly for a novel detailing a young uprising, Alexei Navalny provides the foreword of the English translation. Both Putin and Medvedev have read Sankya: Obviously, they are trying to get to know their enemy.

Whatʼs notable about The Founders is that whereas previous generations fought for the ideals of Communism, their ideology is markedly absent; «All ideology is gone, » intonates Sankya. The main unifying element of the group is anger at the status quo. The novel gives voice to the frustration and desire of the younger generation to throw off the restraints of the system the elder generation has constructed. At one point Sankya asks: «If we ask the elderly to draw, will their drawings be as bright as those of children?»

Outside its political overtones, the Sankya also paints a picture of what it is to be a youth growing up in rural Russia today. Prilepin makes vivid the countryʼs greyness: the concrete high rises of the city, the decrepit and aging population, the dilapidated houses of Sankyaʼs decaying hometown. In one stark passage (read beautifully here by Stephen Fry), Sankya recalls his attempt to drive his fatherʼs coffin to be buried. With the poorly maintained roads between the isolated villages their van quickly becomes stuck in the snow. Still miles from their destination, Sankya and his mother are forced to get out and drag the coffin. Prilepin makes palpable their feelings of isolation, desperation and that no one else in the world could give a damn about their existence.

If anything, Sankya has become more poignant as time has passed. Prophesising the post-truth era, Prilepin writes: «The revolution does not come from the top or the bottom — it begins when the truth thins out…», 27.02.2018

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