“It’s Time offers English readers a rare glimpse into contemporary Russian writing. Subtleties, connotations, nuance and sounds – and particularly argot and colloquialisms – of the original language can’t be completely reproduced in a translation. It’s far easier to translate Tolstoy than a contemporary writer and James Rann has done a great job, but I can’t help feeling that the novel probably has a greater impact in Russian.
That quibble apart, this novel should be welcomed. The author is Russian, but there’s a universality about his city in the novel – it’s undefined, it’s anywhere and everywhere. The protagonist Max spends much of his time on a roof observing this city which melds into one with the sky and the sea. Below him is faceless and stressful urban life, whilst up on his roof Max has entered a different plane of quasi-metaphysical musings, imagination, freedom, beauty – perhaps some kind of magic. Those whom he interacts with are on his wave length: Viktor the photographer who sees beauty unseen by others, artist Mutt who has developed an idiosyncratic vision which blanks out all the city dross and sees only his paintings ‘flashing and burning in the darkness’. Max is mourning the loss of his beloved Tanya and is comforted by his enigmatic friend, Lady F, who appears and reappears unbidden, encouraging him to believe that all is possible – and who may or not be real. As Max seeks for meaning, miraculous coincidences and escapes from death heighten this sense of mystery and magic. His street artist friend expresses his own search for meaning through his ‘writing on the wall’, examples of which are integrated into the text in the book.
What is refreshing about the novel is that it is about gentleness, love, life, and freedom from the base values of city life: there is no violence, sex, politics or cruelty. Max is alive to the beauty of the city and its skies. For him, seeing the sunset colours is to enter into a secret place: It’s as if I’m here and there simultaneously, everywhere, in every cell of this night, and that all of this is some sweet secret (p207)
Watching the waves produces within him a calm poetry of movement: The beach. The waves roll in. It’s already evening, but the sky on the sea is as blindingly bright as it is in the afternoon. The cool sand. I take it in my hand, and billions of tiny stones slip through my fingers in cold streams.
It’s possible that the soul-searching appeals more to Russians with their traditional deep responses to the voice of the soul, but young people anywhere reading this English version will identify with Max’s unquiet questioning and questing, and find the tense final pages comfortingly life-affirming. Rather like Max’s life, the novel has no traditional structure: there are no beginnings or ends in any of the threads in the narrative, and the final words are ‘THE BEGINNING’.
This is a brave and unusual publication – read it!”
— RACHEL REDFORD, UK
About the reviewer
Rachel Redford has been writing for national UK newspapers and journals for many years and is the author of twelve English Language course books published by Oxford University Press.
- Title: It’s Time
- Subtitle: Writing On The Wall
- Author: Pavel Kostin
- Translator: James Rann
- Language: English
- Publisher: Urban Romantics
- ISBN: 9781907832185 pbk
- ISBN: 9781907832192 ebk
Where to order paper back edition