‘If we ask the elderly to draw’ asks Sankya, ‘will their drawings be as bright as those of children?’ This English translation of Zakhar Prilepin’s Sankya by Mariya Gusev and Jeff Parker has been long overdue; and in recent months disturbingly relevant. The novel gained a cult following on its 2006 release, and Prilepin was hailed as the reincarnation of any number of Russian greats, most famously Gorky. Thugs, a critically acclaimed play by Kirill Serebrennikov, is loosely based on the book; and even those in Russia disturbed by Prilepin’s political views – in recent months he has written in favour of Russia’s annexation of Crimea – still consider him a literary genius. Both Medvedev and Putin have read the novel – a fact, which Prilepin attributes simply to the need to ‘know one’s enemy’.
Sasha Tishin (the titular Sankya), is drawn to friends with criminal – rather than strictly political – convictions. Sankya is a member of the Founding Fathers, a radical political organisation known for its violent disorder, and bearing a loose resemblance to the National Bolshevik Party, banned in Russia in 2007, and notorious for its direct action stunts against the government. The Eurasianist philosopher Alexander Dugin and Novorossiya activist Aijo Beness were once counted among its members. Prilepin’s fictional group, with their ‘fucked up flag,’ are no different, led from a basement-cum-bunker in Moscow, in the name of their jailed leader Kostenko. These Founding Fathers are an assembly of the disaffected, driven by a vague sense of injustice and wounded pride, contemptuous of anything, which could be mistaken for ideology; and their leader Kostenko is a variation on the mercurial National Bolshevik leader, writer and poet Eduard Limonov. Kostenko writes grandiose, childish poetry, dividing the world into ‘magnificent’ and ‘monstrous.’ These poems, and Kostenko’s ‘crazy philosophy about Eurasian nomads’ are the cornerstone of the Founders’ work – Limonov, true to form, described Sankya as the book he wished he had written.