In his introduction to Arkadii Dragomoshchenko’s new book Chinese Sun, Jacob Edmonds posits the book’s most pressing question: Can something be central if it is marginal and arbitrary? This is a question that postmodern fiction, in its shifting of narrative onto the play of language itself, often asks the reader to discern. And so it only makes sense to begin this book in the middle. On page 174, about halfway through, the reader (who ultimately is the story’s protagonist) encounters the following sentence: “Yes, finally, I’d like to become a naked function of literal aimlessness. Of letteral typelessness.” These two sentences function as a clue for how to read the book: aimlessly.
Whether the reader chooses to follow this clue or not, the end result (because of course, there is no resolution) is to become immersed—not in the beauty of plot, but in the lushness of language. Dragomoshchenko’s sentences, like Tolstoy’s, are urgent and determined, and though they may not function to move the reader along a narrative current, they do mean something. “I looked for your trace in what hasn’t yet happened and probably never will.” The meaning is in the looking, the seeking out of relevance—in daily life and the overactive mind.
Positing the language of narrative to circulate around plot, gesturing toward it but never actually sinking into it, Dragomoshchenko uses language familiar to great epic literature while locating his structure in the margins. Part of what does become central is the book’s translation from Russian. In the original, the language is inflected and relies, as Edmond writes, “on the syntactic and phonetic peculiarities of Russian for many of its effects.” Translator and poet Evgeny Pavlov reenacts Dragomoshchenko’s language into English along with all of its allusions, its long, perplexing, syntactically complex sentences, and its unique logic. “I wanted to read the text by translating it into a foreign language,” Pavlov writes. And perhaps this is the most useful clue of all on how to read this text: translate it into your own language, and the plot just may surprise you in its relevance to real life.