The Skull by Oleh Shynkarenko
Where do the origins of the so-called ‘Russian World’ begin? According to The Skull, in a remote Siberian village whose residents are unable to tell reality from fantasy. Their historical consciousness – or rather collective mind – is dominated by an archetypical idea of supporting ‘a righteous fight’ against Russia’s eternal as well as imaginary foes.
The novel’s main protagonists are mock ancient Rus’ bogatyrs, warriors from Slavic epic poems, who volunteer to ‘save Ukraine from mythical Bandera followers’. Jointly with other deranged patriots, ‘noble knights’ head east via a T-34 tank painted like a matryoshka doll. Whatever they do defies the laws of physics, logic, and common sense. Their pointless crusade is under the spotlight of a Kremlin-backed TV show. Gradually, the heroes lose all moral values and fall under the power of the shameless propaganda nourishing their resentment and anger. As they cannot meet any real enemy soldier, they end up destroying each other.
This sense of absurdity is enhanced by macabre humour, fairytale creatures, and grotesque characters – a hut on chicken feet, Yuri Gagarin preparing for his secret flight to Mars, a priest-killer, a mysterious tribe searching for golden treasure, and a Putin sculpture made of Parmesan. In this way, the novel explores the reasons behind aggression in modern Russian society.
About the Author
Oleh Shynkarenko is a Zaporizhia-born journalist, writer, and author of several podcasts for Hromadske Radio. During the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests, Shynkarenko reported on events in Ukraine for The Daily Beast in New York. His first antiutopian novel Kaharlyk was reviewed by The Guardian, The Economist, The Wire, and the Index of Censorship.