Addendum: Anarchaos in Russian


“There’s a way to make it easy,” the steward told him.  “Start to say anarchy, and midway through switch and say chaos.”

The missionary tried it: “Anarchaos.” The apologetic smile flared again, and he thanked the steward, saying, “It certainly is a name to give one pause.”

“I suppose they meant it that way,” said the steward.

“And their sun,” said the missionary.  “Do they really call it Hell?”

“It is Hell,” said the steward.

Though we’ve been seeing less of Ray Garraty since I came to the Great Starkian Interregnum in Westlake’s bibliography (hopefully he shall return once I’m reviewing Parker novels again), my correspondence with him has continued apace, and this past week he shared something with me–seems an online friend of his in Russia has created a special limited edition of Anarchaos–just thirty copies–with illustrations that look like woodcuts (but are not).

I’ll let him explain how this all happened–

It’s really only 30 copies been printed. They weren’t even offered for
sale, distributed through the small closed circle. Actually, the idea
to make this book came to the publisher Sergey after my review on
Anarchaos two years ago. A little later he found out that a translator
started to translate this novel, they got in touch, and after that the
publisher decided to make this edition.

All books by this press are made with illustrations. The illustrator
is a young artist who lives in Moscow, Diana Kuznetsova, who did
illustrations for other books by this press.

I think this is the first instance I’ve ever seen of an illustrated edition of a Westlake book (other than Philip) that really works.   Westlake didn’t write novels with the intention of having his words accompanied by pictures (his short stories for the pulps were another matter).  The publishers he was working with mainly didn’t do that.  They might hire superlative artists for the lurid paperback cover, or the more respectable hardcover dust jacket–they might not.  But never did any of his novels feature artwork like this.


Or this.


Or this.


Not to mention this.


If you’ve read the book, you can figure out which scene is being illustrated, most of the time, without needing to read the text.  And you can probably figure out what this picture is doing in the book as well.


Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, whose revolutionary ideas were chosen as the founding principles of Anarchaotian government (or lack thereof). Interesting that they use a picture of the younger man, not the white-haired old sage.

(This is what I get for writing this too quickly, and not doing the research I typically do for my reviews–that’s Mikhail Bakunin, and a perfunctory check of Westlake’s novel would have prevented this egregious error, but ah well.)

If I might offer a very small criticism, Rolf Malone is supposed to be a very large strong intimidating looking fellow, and if this is supposed to be him, he’s a bit on the skinny side.


But nothing wrong with his virility.


So this is a very Russian vision of Westlake’s science fiction novel–and it translates beautifully on a visual level.  (I can only assume the textual translation is equally inspired.)    They’re not emphasizing the hardboiled American detective fiction element of the story.  This is Anarchaos transplanted into another literary milieu.  It feels more like Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy, or even Turgenev (with the Strugatsky Brothers thrown into the mix).  An earlier era, a period romance with philosophical overtones.  A harsh semi-feudal frontier environment, and a hero who is somehow just surviving from page to page.  It’s different, but that’s all to the good, I think.

There is something timeless about the story of Rolf Malone, and his single-minded quest for understanding and revenge, and finding the social currents he navigates deeper and more treacherous than he could have ever imagined.  You can find similar stories in many cultures, from long bygone eras, like the Irish saga of Máel Dúin.

If I might make a suggestion to the publisher, perhaps an additional copy could be mailed to the Westlake estate.  Westlake loved to collect odd foreign editions of his works–it gave him a great deal of personal satisfaction to know his ideas, his characters, his stories, were being read and appreciated in many languages, all over the world.  He understood that something is always changed in translation–something lost, something gained–and that this is part of how we as a species learn from each other, share our experiences, our perceptions–and find out how much they have in common.  He might have particularly appreciated the independent nature of this publisher, the almost hand-made feel of this edition.

This is one of many ways we have of staving off the nightmare scenario that Westlake painted in this book.  Stories have preserved the knowledge and legacy of many a fallen civilization.  Hopefully ours won’t be next–but just in case.

I’ll try to get the next review up shortly.  (Just in case).


Filed under Donald Westlake novels, science fiction

4 responses to “Addendum: Anarchaos in Russian

  1. Ray Garraty

    It’s packaged into SF series, even though inside it def looks like something more than SF. More like utopia circa Russian Empire times. I wonder if it was published in XIX century would it pass the tsarist censorship?
    As for sending a copy to the Westlake estate – it is unlicensed. Can’t predict the response from DW’s son. Stephen King was so angry at Russia in the 90s for pirated editions of his books, he still refuses to visit Russia.

    • Yeah, that occurred to me. But thirty copies? Most likely effect would be to inspire people who heard about it to buy the ebook (though I’m sure that’s pirated as well). Since they weren’t even sold in the traditional sense, I don’t see the Westlake Estate being much bothered about it. Do it to a Dortmunder or Parker novel, now that might be another matter. I suppose they couldn’t put any kind of official seal of approval on it, though. They could archive it for future Westlake scholars, perhaps. Well, those scholars can always come here to be enlightened. 😉

      Now that is an interesting question you raise–if you went back in time and published a somewhat edited version of this story, how would people react? It’s influenced mainly by genres that didn’t exist in the 19th century, at least not in their present-day forms. Hammett meets Heinlein, as I mentioned in my review. Much of it would simply pass over people’s heads. The references to Kropotkin might be problematic–but since the practical application of his ideas proves so disastrous, perhaps not. The Tsar’s censors were probably suspicious of large foreign corporations, to the extent such things existed then.

      You could rewrite it in terms of French Fabulism, something like that. Were Russians of that era allowed to read Rabelais, Voltaire, Cyrano de Bergerac (the real one), Anatole France? How about that famously irritable Irishman, Dean Swift?

      I think you’d have a hard time making a case it’s an attack on Russian authoritarianism, since the main point of the book is that the absolute lack of any central authority is as bad as a surfeit of it. But maybe you’re right–it does endorse the violent actions of one man as a means of overthrowing a bad social order, and that was a major no-no in a time period when many violent individuals thought they could do precisely that. And in a way they did, but nothing ever succeeds as planned.

      Stanislaw Lem was able to write all kinds of devastating satires of the Soviet system–he just had to pretend he was writing about aliens. Or robots. Or Americans. Same thing. 🙂

  2. andrey

    Actually, it’s a photo of Bakunin, not Kropotkin

    • Damn! I didn’t find that photo online, but the beards tend to make all these guys look alike. There was this one photo of Kropotkin that was really similar.

      I should have re-read the section in the novel dealing with the origins of Anarchaos. You understand, I’ve reviewed a whole hell of a lot of Westlake books since then. The fine details tend to blur after a while. Kropotkin is mentioned, but Bakunin’s influence is cited as most prominent. My error, apologies. Not so much to Bakunin, as I doubt he’d appreciate being mentioned in this context at all. He’d probably rather it was blamed on Kropotkin.

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