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“I am Moscow’s underground son, the result of one too many nights on the town,” says Mbobo, the precocious 12-year-old narrator of Uzbek master Hamid Ismailov’s novel, The Underground. Born from a Siberian woman and an African athlete who came to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Mbobo navigates the complexities of being a fatherless, mixed-raced boy in the shaky terrain of the Soviet Union in the years before its collapse. Like Oskar, the child hero of Günter Grass’s novel, The Tin Drum, Mbobo must define himself within a bewilderingly huge and complex world, one that hides the darkest secrets, whose atlas is the Moscow subway system: “The metro is my innards: my thoughts, my experiences, my life, my cavities, my veins, my arteries. If you cut me open on the operating table, you wouldn’t find blue veins and red arteries, but the multicolored web of the Moscow metro stations.”
Named one of the "ten best Russian novels of the 21st Century," and "a master class in how to write the Russian postmodern novel" (Continent Magazine), The Underground is exiled Uzbek author and BBC journalist Hamid Ismailov’s haunting and moving tour of the Soviet capital, on the surface and beneath, in the years before the fall. Though deeply engaged with great Russian authors of the past—Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gorky, Nabokov, and, above all, Pushkin—Ismailov is an emerging master of a new kind of Russian writing that revels in the sordid reality and diverse composition of the country today.
Praise for The Underground
“One of the best Russian novels of the 21st century.”
"Hamid Ismailov has the capacity of Salman Rushdie at his best to show the grotesque realization of history on the ground."
"Ismailov belongs to the tradition of Russian satirical novelists, from Gogol to Bulgakov and Platonov."
"A writer of immense poetic power."
"The dream of grandeur is more than justified by the artfulness of The Underground, which...create[s] the motifs of blackness, subterranean movement, and isolation that are the novel’s strongest effects."
Hamid Ismailov is an Uzbek journalist and writer who was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 1992 for the United Kingdom, where he now works for the BBC World Service. His works are still banned in Uzbekistan. His writing has been published in Uzbek, Russian, French, German, Turkish, English, and other languages. He is the author of many novels, including Sobranie Utonchyonnyh, Le Vagabond Flamboyant, Two Lost to Life, The Railway, Hostage to Celestial Turks, Googling for Soul, The Underground, A Poet and Bin-Laden and The Dead Lake; poetry collections including Sad (Garden) and Pustynya (Desert); and books of visual poetry including Post Faustum and Kniga Otsutstvi. He has translated Russian and Western classics into Uzbek, and Uzbek and Persian classics into Russian and several Western languages. Restless Books will publish Ismailov's novel The Railway digitally in English in 2015.
Carol Ermakova studied German and Russian language and literature and holds an MA in translation from Bath University. She first visited Russia in 1991. More recently, Ermakova spent two years in Moscow working as a teacher and translator. Carol currently lives in the North Pennines and works as a freelance translator.