Leonid Latynin. Sleeper at Harvest Time. Andrew Bromfield, tr. Timur Iskhakov, ill. Somerville, Ma. Zephyr. 1994. 184 pages, ill.
$21 ($11 paper). ISBN 0-939010-36-4.
The fashionable “magic realism” seems to be reaching Russian literature these days, resulting in some original works of fiction. Leonid Latynin (b. 1938) has embraced the practice and adapted it to a more traditional form in Russian letters, the medieval chronicle, written in a highly ornamental, rich style, that has now been rendered into English in an excellent translation by Andrew Bromfield.
The story of a boy conceived by a Russian woman and fathered by a bear, Sleeper at Harvest Time begins in the eleventh century and develops through the ages, reaching its climax in a terrifying execution scene in the twenty-first century at the very same spot on the Moscow River where it had begun. Latynin takes his protagonist through various stages of Russian history, exposes him to pagan rites and a decadent fascination with sex, and forces him to witness multiple forms of violence and cruelty – in short, making him a living part of the national’s heritage. For a reader not necessarily familiar with Russian history and literature, the novel makes fascinating reading.
Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski
Ohio State University