Cover image for The new sweet style : a novel
The new sweet style : a novel
Aksenov, Vasiliĭ Pavlovich, 1932-
Uniform Title:
Novyĭ sladostnyĭ stilʹ. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 482 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"The New Sweet Style, Alexander Korbach - a singer/composer/playwright adored by the counterculture in Moscow and reviled by the Communist powers-that-were - comes to the United States to start over and to search for new ways of pursuing his art." "No one is at the airport to meet him. Oh, well. Sasha soon discovers that he's a distant cousin of a rich American retailer with an elegant flagship store in New York. But before he can "capitalize" on this connection, Sasha has to work as a garage attendant in Santa Monica, deal with his Russian ex-wife, face down the KGB, get in bed with the KGB, and drink a goodly portion of vodka now and again (and again)."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Vassily Aksyonov was born in Kazan, Russia on August 20, 1932. His parents were victims of the Stalin-era repressions. He was raised in an orphanage. He graduated from the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Medical Institute in 1956 and worked as a doctor for the next three years. His first stories were published in 1958 in the popular journal Yunost (Youth). His first novel, Colleagues, was published in 1961. In the 1970s, his work was kept from publication by Soviet censors. In 1979, he along with several others published the journal Metropol, which featured works that did not receive official permission to appear. He lived in the United States from 1980 to 2004 and taught Russian literature at several American universities including George Mason University and Goucher College. His works include A Ticket to the Stars, The Burn, Oranges from Morocco, The Island of Crimea, In Search of Melancholy Baby and Generations of Winter. He won the Russian Booker Prize in 2004 for his novel Voltairiens and Voltairiennes. He died on July 6, 2009 at the age of 76.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After being forced to leave the Soviet Union, our picaresque hero, avant-guard playwright and songwriter Alexander Korbach, arrives on the shores of the New World, ready to reinvent himself as an American artist and make the streets of gold his own. In between assignations with Nora, his married lover, Alexander morphs from job to job and adventure to adventure as he experiences drug dealing, teaching college courses to American teenagers, and attempting to coexist with the KGB. The scenes shift frenetically from New York to Los Angeles, Russia to Israel, and many points between. Reading this new novel from the author of Generations of Winter (1994) is exhausting and not entirely rewarding, because Alexander is never quite as maniacally engaging as the author would have him. In addition, Aksyonov's habit of stepping outside the novel to comment on what is going on tends to distance the reader from the book. Although our hero's seemingly unending peregrinations may exhaust all but the most determined readers, Aksyonov's novel should be in public and academic libraries. --Nancy Pearl

Publisher's Weekly Review

Alexander Korbach, the hero of acclaimed Russian ‚migr‚ Aksyonov's picaresque new novel, is, like his author, so disliked by the Soviet authorities that after a career as a protest singer and dramaturge for a troupe called the Buffoons, he's pressured by the KGB to leave the Soviet Union. He heads for Venice, Calif., where he gets a worm's-eye view of Reagan's America, working as a parking attendant, hanging out with the riffraff patrons of a local bar called First Bottom. But fate catches up with him in the person of millionaire Stanley Korbach, a distant relative. Alex refuses Stanley's assistance, but he does go to a big family reunion on Stanley's estate in Maryland, where he meets the love of his life, Stanley's married daughter, Nora Mansoun. The problem is, Alex is broke. He even has to sell cocaine to afford to see Nora. Eventually, Nora persuades Pinkerton University to hire Alex for the drama department. At this point, the story goes haywire. Stanley Korbach, now a blend of Daddy Warbucks and George Soros, showers Alex with a director's job in Hollywood and a position in an American/Russian political fund. Nora becomes an astronaut, then leaves Alex to go to a dig in Iraq. Alex as a celebrity, with Stanley acting as his personal deus ex machina, becomes a device by which the author can insert his historical observations about the fall of Gorbachev and the events of August 1991. At the very end, this massive book recaptures its manic but focused energy, when Korbach's Hollywood career falls apart. Despite the novel's lapses, Aksyonov is a fantastic talent, a master of "Mr. Gogol's style of lyrical digression,'' by which he ponders literature and fate in large, sometimes autobiographical asides, like a series of genial showman's winks. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

migr‚ author Aksyonov has garnered considerable praise as a satirist (Say Cheese!) and historical novelist (Generations of Winter; The Winter's Hero). His latest work is a picaresque account of the American sojourn of Alexander Korbach, a Russian artist who, like the author himself, is forced to flee the Soviet Union. Transplanted to the United States and obsessed with the idea of Dante's dolce stil nuovo ("new sweet style"), Korbach faces the vagaries of fortune over the course of a dozen or so years in the company of new companions and newly discovered relatives. Among the latter is millionaire Stanley Korbach, who takes Alex under his wing. The exploits of both heroes form the basis of the novel, providing Aksyonov with ample opportunity to poke fun at the absurdity of life in general and American lifestyles in particular. Unforutnately, the novel is so dense, so bogged down by meticulously detailed descriptions and anecdotes that the reader loses track of the plot and even, occasionally, the characters. The text is laden with dated slang and vulgar discourse. The author's farcical approach makes it difficult for the reader to bond with any of the characters. In fact, Aksyonov himself is the most appealing figure, intruding again and again to address his readers. His charming asides are a welcome diversion in a novel that is clever and stylish but seldom engaging. Recommended only for large collections of contemporary literature.ÄSister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



THREE STEPS On August 10, 1982, Alexander Zakharovich Korbach set foot on American soil for the first time. As he was standing in the massive queue at passport control in the Pan Am terminal, the date kept buzzing in his head: there was some further meaning in it. It was only once he was past the checkpoint and alongside the baggage carousel that it came to him: it was his birthday! Every year on this date, he "turned" something, and just now again he had "turned" something: forty-two, was it? No, forty-three. If he had thought a year ago in the Crimea that in a year he would "celebrate" his birthday in a New York airport! August 10, 1982. Forty-three years old--head hurts from last night--an H-1 visa--fifteen hundred dollars and three thousand francs in my pocket, I don't feel anything but a "simoom of sensations." His first encounter on American soil happened to be a pleasant, if not a liberating, one. Suddenly, his suitcase arrived, among the first ones--came leaping out of the netherworld, displaying a strange agility, not to say excessive familiarity. Looking at the suitcase, Alexander, a man with a penchant for inadequate reflections about insignificant things, thought: Why, here it is, this battered little suitcase, and it's somehow endearing. The heart of the matter, after all, as it turned out, was this: someone killed a large animal somewhere, they made a case out of the hide in Latvia, and now everything "beastly" about it has vanished, and the suitcase has been transformed into an object of nostalgia. The case went by, collided with a Hindu bundle, and fell over on its side. The next time around Korbach snatched his belongings from among the other bags and took his place in the line for customs inspection. Customs Officer Jim Corbett was eyeing him from atop a high stool. While it is impossible to examine all the junk coming into the USA, there does exist a system of selective checking, which the professionals have mastered. The customs specialist reads faces, gestures, any movement. The potential violator is always spotted from a long way off. For example, the balding, finely featured head. An individual difficult to put in a category. The shoulders were twitching strangely--too much, somehow. A drug smuggler doesn't give little jumps like that. Let the head and ears go by, or check him out? It's always a toss-up. "Please open your suitcase," he asked politely, and added: "sir." The individual thrusts a piece of paper at him: "Declaration! Declaration!" Doesn't even understand English! Jim Corbett makes a gesture: a sharp turn of the wrists followed by an elegantly proportioned raising of the palms. "If you don't mind, sir." There is nothing attractive, but nothing particularly repulsive either, in the suitcase. Among perspiration-stained shirts is a book in an old binding, embossed with a large gold D. Obviously no false bottom. Corbett glances in the passport: you don't get many of them, these Soviets. "Got any vodka?" the officer jokes. "Only in here," the new arrival jokes in reply, tapping himself on the forehead. Great guy--Corbett laughs to himself--it'd be nice to sit with him at Tony's. A Russian must carry a lot of interesting stuff around inside, Corbett went on thinking for several minutes, allowing potential violators to pass without a check. A country of exceptional order, everything under control, no homosexuality--how do they manage it? Meanwhile, Alexander Korbach was making his way in a crowd toward the entrance to a yawning tunnel, at the other end of which, in fact, the land of freedom began. A body that has just flown across an ocean might not yet be at full strength. Maybe the astral threads, all of these chakras, idas, pingalas, kundalinis, had to reassemble themselves into their natural order after having been transported at a speed so unnatural to human creatures, he mused with a melancholy chuckle. The shuffling of feet doesn't mean anything yet--it's just the movement of indistinguishable mechanisms wanting to end up in America. It takes time for old passions to rekindle. Beyond the crowd Alexander Zakharovich could make out three steps of varying shades: the first white and of marble; the second rough, of some scorched-looking stone, purple to the point of blackness; and the third of fiery scarlet porphyry. The crowd silently flowed into the tunnel. A second crowd, this one quietly waiting to greet the arrivals, came into view at the end of the cavern. The lights for the television cameras were already jutting out over their heads. Keep your cool, Korbach said to himself. Speak only Russian. No humiliating attempts at the local lingo. I'm sorry, gentlemen, the situation is unclear. For the moment, the theater still exists. The question of my position as artistic director is up in the air. There are creative forces in the United States with whom I feel an intellectual and stylistic kinship, and the purpose of my visit is to establish contact with them. Well, then, while our five-feet-four-inch-tall protagonist, a man of not unattractive appearance, in the mold of that nineteenth-century poet and novelist Mikhail Lermontov--though with the receding hairline of the twentieth-century poet and novelist Andrei Bely--approaches the television cameras, we can use the opportunities provided by the novel's wide open spaces to leaf through his curriculum vitae. ONE HUNDRED DEGREES FAHRENHEIT It was only as he approached the barrier that Korbach realized that the cameras, photographers, and TV people were not intended for him at all. The curly head of a famous tennis player protruded from a clutch of lights and recording devices. The other people waiting were looking for their friends and relatives among the arrivals. It was at this threshold that the transatlantic phantoms of passengers materialized. A process somewhat akin to the retrieval of his luggage, only with joyful emotions expressed in a more demonstrative form. No one, however, was in a hurry to retrieve Korbach the director. He walked by the cardboard signs bearing the names of those the signs' bearers didn't know by sight: Vernet, Schwartzman, Zoya Betancour, Kwan Li Zhi--his name wasn't there. Maybe journalists were meeting him at some other exit, and the little shits got things mixed up? He walked through a huge hall filled with a phantasmagoric babble, of which he could not understand a single word. From time to time he was almost deafened by the paging system, which he couldn't understand either. Porters were talking among themselves in an absolutely incomprehensible language. Well, it seems that I don't understand English at all, if that's English. "Information," he read. Now, that I understand. Must ask where they're meeting the director Korbach here. Three fresh-faced girls in Pan Am uniforms were sitting behind an open counter talking with one another. When he got closer, he realized that he couldn't make out a word of their chatter. One of them turned to him: "Sir?" He averted his eyes and walked on by. She watched him go with an understanding expression on her face. Probably an East European. Polish and Czech refugees are often ashamed of their English, unlike the Tamils, Senegalese, and Burmese, who aren't. Korbach dragged his suitcase on its little trolley around the terminal for no less than an hour and drank water from a fountain so that he wouldn't have to order a Coke in English, until the staggering thought hit him: No one is meeting me here! Yet Mauriac told me that they would! That there had been loads of reports in the American press! Every American he met had exclaimed: "Alexander Korbach! It's a great name in the States!" He emerged from the building and saw before him a giant sea lion breeding ground, sleek and gleaming in the sun. From time to time the males would slowly begin to move. An overripe Daliesque sun hung over the supine herd. It was a vast car park. You're soaked in sweat right away. Goddamned humidity. Humidity or humanity? Whatever it is, I don't matter to anyone in this place. "Mr. Korbach!" rang out at that very moment. A short, pudgy man in an untucked, loud, short-sleeved shirt was approaching him. A handshake, an exchange of perspiration. "Igor Yurin called me up this morning, asked me to meet you just in case. Stanislav Butlerov. Well, just call me Stas--we're the same age, after all." He led him straight into hell--to the far end of the parking lot. "I'd started to think that you weren't coming: no signs anywhere of the journalists meeting you. I can't call your image to mind, sorry--in three years I've almost forgotten what heroes of the fatherland look like. I was just about to leave when suddenly, there he is, in the flesh." He quoted a song that Korbach had written what now seemed like a hundred years ago, and the composer felt a sudden upwelling of revulsion for his own creation. Well, there they are. A big yellow taxi was standing there. "There's no driver," he said. "I'm the driver," Butlerov said with a grin. They drove along the highway, four lanes in one direction and four in the other. The stream of cars in all shapes and sizes was rolling along at the same speed, as though they had all been wound up with a single key and set in motion. They slid by nondescript houses and protruding cubes of brick without the slightest signs of an architect having worked on them, nothing but walls, windows, doors, windows--and what else? That's enough. Here and there a billboard rose over the rooftops: an ad from an airline or a man with a wheat-colored mustache and his Camels. A crowd gesturing for some reason with its fingers in the same direction flashed by on a corner, but on the whole everything was deserted. "Where are you headed, anyway?" Stas Butlerov asked. He was quite correct in his manner--on the whole--but from time to time a slight expression of sarcasm flickered from beneath his eyelids. "To the city center, I guess," Korbach answered with a shrug. Too bad he'd not had a drink at the terminal. That might have made everything look better now. He wouldn't have had to squirm at every turn when the sun, overstuffed with raspberry-colored magma, appeared over the stacked bricks of the houses in the gray immobility of the sky. "That means Manhattan," Stas said, intoning the words with a strange cunning. He steered in a broad semicircle onto a ramp leading to an elevated highway. To the left, skyscrapers stood pressed to each other like a phalanx about to go into battle. "Strange sight," Korbach muttered. "That's the Jewish cemetery," said Butlerov. I must be going crazy, Korbach thought. I take a nearby Jewish cemetery for faraway Manhattan. I should have had a drink at Pan Am. "Now then, this here is Manhattan," said Butlerov. He was trying with all his might to keep a triumphant tone out of his voice, but in the end he failed. The sight that evening was magnificent and foreboding. The stagnant hundred-degree heat lent a feeling of some vague inevitability, an approach of something fundamentally inhuman, to the whole mass of stone, glass, and steel. Clarity was introduced only by the ball of the sun hanging over the rows of buildings in a murky stew of urban pollution, in the American, and in no way the Russian, sense of the word, which means "wet dream." "Is everything clear?" Butlerov asked. It was difficult to say which there was more of in his voice, sarcasm or pride. "Perfectly," laughed Korbach. "Like in a film," he went on, still laughing. "Like in a dream." And he kept on laughing. Excerpted from The New Sweet Style: A Novel by Vassily Aksyonov All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.