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by Maria Galina
Translated from the Russian by Amanda Love Darragh
Reviewed by Jane Anderson Jones

As I began to read Maria Galina's Iramifications, I couldn't help but think of the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Road" movies in which two rather hapless adventurers find themselves in strange and exotic lands competing for the love of a voluptuous woman amidst outrageous circumstances.

In Iramifications, Misha Shenderovich, a shuttle trader (one who buys cheap goods abroad and sells them for a profit at home) from Odessa and his partner, the seductive Alla Sergeevna, meet Givi Mesopotamishivili, a Georgian accountant, on a nude beach. After a night of drinking, Shenderovich and Alla shanghai Givi onto an Istanbul-bound ferry, to replace a partner who has disappeared. The trading deal ends in disaster, and Alla goes missing while researching an ancient stone tablet. Searching for Alla and the tablet, which has been stolen, Givi and Shenderovich stumble through magic caves and arrive in an ancient desert amidst the followers of a power-hungry, time-traveling magician/monk. They escape from this Brotherhood only to be captured by a tribe of Brigands who are on a mission to deliver them to the ancient city of Iram. Along the way, the duo encounter ghouls, werewolves, djinns and dragonfly helicopters; finally they end up in a deadly battle for the kingship.

If all this sounds preposterous, it is. And it's boisterous, exuberant fun. According to her afterword, Galina set out to retell the tale of Sinbad the Sailor in a contemporary setting, but along the way, her research led her into the myths and folklore of the Apocrypha, the Talmud, the Koran, Arab storytelling, and the Hellenic world—all brought together in the forbidden city of Iram, the city at the Center of the World, where events can cause "iramifications" for all of humanity: "For there is a terrible danger threatening Iram, and not only Iram but all of the other worlds too, and this danger is growing day by day".

At the heart of this fantasia of a novel is a struggle between the quest for absolute power and the simple decency of ordinary life. Shenderovich, whose name means a descendant of Alexander, is lured into a delusion of might and power. Givi, whose name implies that he is an "everyman", remains a true friend to Misha throughout; although he longs only to go home, he is the one who is granted the gift of tongues, and he encounters various sages at crucial moments. Pawns in a cosmic chess game, Givi and Shenderovich give a human face to the everlasting intrigue of power politics. Perhaps Iramifications is more Candide than Hope and Crosby.

Maria Galina is a highly respected novelist, poet, critic and translator in Russia. Iramifications won the 2005 International Portal Prize for best science fiction/fantasy novel, and its 2008 translation by Amanda Love Darragh won the 2009 Rossica Prize for best translation.

Profile of Marina Galina:

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