Sunday, February 6, 2011

DesoLIT: The writings of Daniel Kalder

Reviewed by Jane

Part One: Lost Cosmonaut

I really wanted to love this book. I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to fall so totally in love with Daniel Kalder that I would beg him to please, please, please join the DT team and become our living god. Why was I initially so infatuated? Just check out the back-cover blurb:
Daniel Kalder belongs to a unique group: the anti-tourists. Sworn to uphold the mysterious tenets of The Shymkent Declarations, the anti-tourist seeks out the dark, lost zones of our planet, eschewing comfort, embracing hunger and hallucinations, and always traveling at the wrong time of year. In Lost Cosmonaut, Kalder visits locations that most of us don’t even know exist – Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia. He loves these places because no one else does, because everyone else passes them by.
Obviously I couldn’t resist. How could I? Unfortunately, I found the book incredibly annoying. Had it not been about a topic which I love, I probably would've thrown it across the room and left it there. It seemed very much like Kalder was, in fact, a 13 year old boy who had just hit puberty: he mentions cocks and blowjobs way too often, and seemingly for no reason other than to be able to say cock and/or blowjob. He mentions men's genitalia almost as much as
Saffia Farr mentioned her boobs and with even less point. It just seemed incredibly crass. I'm not prudish, but I much prefer something witty (such as when the stuttering Felix Steadiman in Rates of Exchange accidentally offers someone "a nice cock" because his stutter prevents him from uttering "cocktail") to Kalder's frequent and trashy references.

Lost Cosmonaut is… okay. If you get past the crass, juvenile nonsense, he does go to some interesting places of the sort that DT would travel to in a heartbeat; still, it was far from what I’d hoped for. When DT visits Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia, we will totally do it better.

Part Two: Strange Telescopes

I almost didn’t read Strange Telescopes. I’d ordered Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes together, but after reading Lost Cosmonaut I had no desire whatsoever to so much as touch Strange Telescopes. But, as I’m currently living in a country where English language books (outside of ESL textbooks) aren’t exactly easy to come by, I eventually gave in – not so much ‘to temptation’ as ‘out of boredom.’

It was as if Strange Telescopes has been written by someone completely different – or perhaps the puerile author of Lost Cosmonaut simply grew up. I absolutely loved Strange Telescopes.

Unlike Lost Cosmonaut, where Kalder goes in search of desolation itself, in Strange Telescopes, he goes in search of brilliant-but-crazy folks who happen to inhabit bizarre and desolate places. His first subject is Vadim Mikhailov, a man of dubious sanity, whose life is dedicated to the bizarre world located beneath Moscow. Mostly this consists of sewers, although rumors abound of underground chambers, secret metros, and more.
I have rather an obsession with the undersides of cities myself, and I inhaled every bit of this tale with glee. I laughed a lot. And not only did I love Kalder's first tale, but I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book (Kalder’s other insane geniuses included a Russian fellow obsessed with tracking down Orthodox exorcisms in Ukraine, a self-proclaimed Messiah gathering followers in Siberia, and a former 90s-era New Russian who built a ramshackle wooden skyscraper near the Arctic Circle and imprisoned one of his enemies in its basement.) You should read it. Now.

1 comment:

  1. I just noticed your 'Rates of Exchange' quote,good work! Did you enjoy it?