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Number One, or in the Gardens of Other Possibilities


This rich and complex Cajun brew of a novel from “one of Russia’s best living writers (New York Times) opens up new textual realms – a true feast for Petrushevskaya’s devoted readers and inquisitive minds alike.

The bullet-paced, breathtaking narrative opens with a brilliantly rendered dialogue between a research fellow (Number One) and the director of an ethnographic research institute (Number Two). Ivan (Number One), an underpaid, enthusiastic scientist, father of a handicapped child and clandestine creator of a computer game called In The Gardens of Other Possibilities, reports the results of his last expedition to the settlements of the nearly extinct Antti people, whose beliefs and myths merit international scientific attention. Number One plays a recording of the incantations of the powerful shaman of the Antti, who is an adept in the transmigration of souls and knows the way to the evil world of the dead. Ivan has to persuade the director to find 5,000 US dollars in ransom money for his colleague Kukharev, kidnapped during the expedition.

Ivan fails to return to the settlement with the money — he is robbed, and the violent pursuit of the thieves ends in the double murder of Ivan and Valery, one of the criminals. Instead of dying, Ivan finds himself in the body of the thief — and in the centre of the grim reality of the criminal world of Russia’s provinces. As Valery’s body suppresses the consciousness of the intellectual researcher and determines Ivan’s actions, the intricately concocted story escalates into a blood-curdling thriller.

Petrushevskaya’s unsurpassed mastery in rendering the linguistic personalities of the intellectual and the thief, and the dense, concentrated narrative that is the author’s signature technique, open up new textual realms. In the fictional world of Petrushevskaya, the boundaries between the real and the surreal, between everyday existence and the reality of a computer game, are blurred, and her heroes wander along the “forked paths in the “gardens of other possibilities that spiral into endless limbos of personal and social hells in modern Russia. The author brilliantly masters the shifts between an absurdist play through mystical thriller to social drama, putting forward the ontological oppositions of body vs. soul, living vs. being, and drawing a compelling portrait of an almost-extinct Russian intelligentsia.

The reader’s perception of the text is intentionally frustrated; the brilliant narrative technique confronts and confounds (in a Joyceian manner) us. <…> The concentration of the macabre surpasses everything previously published in Russia.

— Russian Journal

A text of frenzied energy and passion. <…> One of the brightest literary events of the year.

This is the unpredictable and harrowing story of a soul that travels between bodies and at the same time tries to solve its numerous problems.

— Private Time Magazine

Petrushevskaya prepares her plot with a dissector’s precision.

— Afisha

Petrushevskaya has conveyed the nightmare of  identity and the question ‘Who am I?’ hanging in mid-air, unanswered, with consummate skill, in the best traditions of David Lynch.

— Vash Dosug

In Number One the evil is not the private prerogative of a single person—it becomes a common denominator of life.

— Itogi Magazine

Book details


Novel, 2004

336 pp

Rights sold

  • Polish Bertelsmann

Literary awards

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