Dmitri Danilov

Sasha privet Hello Sasha
Novel. AST. Moscow 2022. 180 pages

Sergei, mid-30s, impeccable personal and professional criminal records, had consensual, prearranged sex with a 20-year-old woman. Lately, however, you are not an adult until you are 21. She swears in court that she believes he is innocent. However, the death penalty was recently introduced as part of a project to humanize the penal system for crimes where society has no real sense of wrongdoing. Consensual sex with minors is included. Rapists and murderers do not need fto ear such punishment since they have already died a moral death.

However, the execution of the death penalty was humanized to the maximum. The prison is now called Combinat, you live like in a luxury hotel. So that no one becomes a murderer, executions are no longer carried out by executioners. Instead, a warden has recently taken you out for a walk every day through the same hallway, where one fine day you will be torn to pieces by a salvo of an automatic machine gun. This can happen in three days or in thirty years. As luck would have it. Even the guard has no idea. All humane, because you actually don‘t notice anything and can go on living your life as before. Sergei can also continue to practice his job as a university lecturer – online. Attempts to escape are not punished, because the law recognizes the desire for freedom as the highest human good, but Sergei‘s attempts to escape all end up back in the Combinat, where he soon longs to return – by remote control.

The absurdity of a life dependent on random algorithms is literally reflected in the absurdity of the dialogues with judges, law enforcement officials, ministers of various denominations or with Sergei‘s wife. To her he is a living corpse. He ruined her life, which is why she doesn‘t want to have anything to do with him anymore, as she makes him understand with increasing absurdity in his repeated calls from the Combinat. The absurdity of Sergei‘s own mental state is shown by the fact that after a short while he gives the machine gun a name and greets it every day on his walks with „Hello Sasha“. The absurdity of this little novel culminates in a surreal happy ending when Sergei disappears into the distance with his favorite prison officer on a last walk to the applause of all the protagonists mentioned in the book standing in a row, like during credits in the cinema. While Sasha, the machine gun, blasts the floor tiles to pieces in the deserted Combinat hallway.

The main character of the book, Sergei, is reminiscent of all the key figures of the most famous anti-utopias at once, from D-503 to Josef K., but the conditions in which he is placed have never been told in such a way. With the exception of the small fantastic basic premise, this dystopia moves right on the edge of the real. With his own style of writing, his laconic language working with repetitive structures, Danilov has already exposed our everyday routines in several novels in an ironic, philosophical and frighteningly beguiling way. But his style combined with this shocking plot made this new novel become a masterpiece.

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