The Novels of Sol Bakar

Sol Bakar is an underground novelist known for biting satire with literary and historical allusions. Born in the Soviet Union in 1974, he emigrated to the United States in the late 1980s with his family. The family lived in New Mexico and Southern California, with Sol eventually studying aerospace engineering at CalTech for one year before dropping out and pursuing a degree in poetry at Reed College in Oregon. After graduation he traveled extensively throughout the United States, working a variety of terrible jobs with wonderful people for pitiful wages. He eventually settled in northern New Mexico, where he worked as a caretaker for a private ranch. His private library holds over one thousand books, almost half of them poetry.

Bread is the Staff of Life (1999). The peasant farmers have waited all winter to plant their seed. Now the season of planting has arrived and the seed has gone rotten. Peter Tupelov and his father Andre travel to the city to visit a bank officer, but are challenged by a need for collateral. Andre arranges a meeting with Nikolai Rostov, an old school friend who has become a high-powered member of organized crime. Nikolai agrees to finance the planting season in exchange for a pledge of service from Peter and Andre. The seed is planted and over the summer the crop proves to be bountiful. As harvest season approaches, Nikolai arrives at the village to call on Andre and Peter to repay their debt. He gives them task which is certain to lead to their deaths. The villagers attempt to pay Nikolai to release Peter and Andre but he refuses. The two men return to the city with Nikolai and the remaining villagers harvest the crop.

Hunger Is Not Your Aunt (2000). Peter Tupelov and his father Andre have returned to the city to work off a debt to Nikolai Rostov, an underworld figure who is also an old friend of Andre. Nikolai keeps an office in a vast and mostly empty warehouse that was once used by the Soviet government to store telephones. There is little in the warehouse now but for several crates of old telephones, which are obsolete but cannot be destroyed because they contain toxic materials. During the day a crew of Chechnyan immigrants are supposed to disassemble the phones and remove the toxic parts. However the crew has been on strike since Christmas and refuses to work without proper safety equipment. Nikolai wants Andre and Peter to take over the operation and offers them a bonus if they succeed in getting the crew back to work. Peter begins earnestly negotiating with the workers, but behind his back Andre organizes a gang of violent thugs to intimidate the crew. The thugs attack the workers and during the battle several people are seriously injured. A fire breaks out in the warehouse and ignites the old equipment. Peter and Andre call for the workers and thugs to unite in extinguishing the fire, but Nikolai attempts to stop them in order to collect the insurance payout. The mob overpowers Nikolai and throws him into the fire. An explosion injures several people and causes a toxic cloud to rise over the site. Fire crews battle the blaze. Everyone cheers when a rainstorm miraculously extinguishes the flames but toxic residue poisons the local water supply.

The Cat Knows Whose Meat It Has Eaten (2001). “People move through life as if history were not happening all around them.” In the wake of cataclysmic events, a Russian immigrant who refers to himself as Steel narrates his life story. From a troubled childhood in the final days of Soviet Union, when his father disappeared and was never seen or heard from again, to his time as a teenage hustler aboard the trains of Eastern Europe and subsequently hitchhiking his way to France. A brief time in a French jail fails to persuade him from a life of petty crime and he instead takes up the pretension of being a poet, romancing women and other patrons to pay his way through life. Day and night he sits in a diner scribbling poems into shoplifted notebooks. Eventually he is published in obscure magazines and one of his poems is displayed on a bus bench. His rough verses are discovered by an American literary editor and he is soon published internationally. He arrives in America for his first poetry reading on the evening of September 10th, 2001. The reading is a spectacular success and the poet is invited on a tour of the World Trade Center the following morning. As his taxi pulls to the curb, the first airliner strikes the tower overhead. He stands frozen in the moment and the entire narrative unfurls from there.

A Kopeck Saves the Rouble (2002). Bernie Kopeck and Sol Rouble are two aging Russian immigrants who live in a dilapidated retirement community in Pasadena, California. They spend their days arguing about historic events, current events, imaginary events, and of course sporting events. Their conversations are both the envy and annoyance of many of those around them. One eventful Sunday afternoon the two friend take a bus to the museum, where they are surprised to see a painted portrait of a woman they both knew and loved, who vanished from each of their lives long before the two men ever met. The revelation of this connection initiates a search for the vanished woman and by necessity an honest investigation and interrogation of their own personal histories. The two men spend their last savings on an extravagant trip to Europe and are eventually lured to St. Petersburg for a meeting with a mysterious stranger. As they sit in a hotel bar waiting, the two men argue over many things. They eventually begin to scuffle and are separated by the other patrons. The police arrive and threaten to arrest them both. Overcome by anger and damaged pride, both men exit the bistro in a fury, failing to notice their long-lost love lingers in the lobby waiting.

To Live with Wolves (2003). A hallucinatory stream-of-conscious account of life during the siege of Stalingrad.

Where the Dog is Buried (2006). Anya is thirty years old and living in Seattle where she works answering phones for a large software company. She loses her job as a result of “downsizing” and survives several months on unemployment while looking for work. Answering an ad in the weekly newspaper, she is interviewed to work on a government-sponsored phone bank. Her job is to call people and inform them that their insurance is about to expire. The job is mind-numbing and somewhat toxic as many of the people Anya talks to are sick and near death. On the city bus Anya befriends an old woman who claims to have been a child in Nazi Germany. Anya goes home with the woman and discovers she is a gifted photographer. The woman confesses to Anya that she was in fact a Nazi, and begs to tell her true story. Anya consents and each Tuesday afternoon visits the woman to hear her story, recording the confession on her cellular phone. After several weeks, the old woman takes her own life, naming Anya her sole heir. Anya assembles the woman’s artwork into a exhibition, with the audio recordings of the confession playing in the gallery. Visitors are excited by the dynamic artwork but disturbed by the harrowing story.

All’s Well That Ends Well! (2009). Underground novelist Sol Bakar travels to Cincinatti for a science fiction convention. There he meets a cartoonist named Stan Edge, a Gulf War veteran whose disturbing imagery is popular with the counter-culture. Edge and Bakar decide to collaborate on an epic graphic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses and begin a thirteen-year odyssey of their own as they contend with mental illness, government persecution, religious freaks, and obsessed scholars.

Nimrod (2013). The year is 1991 and the Soviet Union is collpasing. The Nimrod is a Soviet sleeper ship bound for Titan, a moon of Saturn, with a crew of miners and engineers in hibernation. Captain Yevgeny Yeltsin and Political Officer Ivan Igoshin are the only individuals awake for the voyage. They receive regular updates from Earth regarding the political situation, but it is soon clear they are on their own. When they arrive at Saturn, the political situation on Earth has become grave. The news and images of the crowds around the Berlin Wall astonish them. They wonder whether to continue the mission or simply return home. Soon they must decide which crew members to wake and how to break the news that the Soviet Union no longer exists. In his first English-language novel, Sol Bakar imagines a galaxy where the Soviet Union achieved miraculous advances in space technology, establishing bases on the Moon and Mars. The costly space race leads to the economic collapse of the United States in the 1950s, allowing the Soviet Union to dominate for many years. But corruption and bad policies lead inevitably to the demise of the communist government. On a distant ship, Bakar examines the collision of politics with reality, the necessities and failures of democracy, and why capitalist hegemony is as inevitable as death.

Titan (2016). The sequel to Nimrod explores consequences of the events recorded in that novel. With the founding and development of the Titan Engineering Project, the engineers and scientists maintain vestiges of the Soviet system but also incorporate more rational thinking and fewer ideological principles in their decision-making. Their form of government and economy are seen as a threat to global capitalism, so the United States and the newly formed Russian Republic join forces in a cold war against Titan.