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The Meat Grinder


Full English translation available

What if guilt turned into a deadly virus springing up a pandemic of suicides and suicide killings across continents? Razor-sharp and bold as Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, raw and disturbing as Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, The Meat Grinder takes you on a roller-coaster ride across years, continents and fates. Sergey Kuznetsov brilliantly dissects the ideas of personal vs collective guilt, memory vs history, and considers violence from the perspectives of culture, society, sex and, ultimately, human nature.

The Meat Grinder was nearly completed by the time the war in Ukraine began in February 2022. Conceived as a reflection on the pandemic, the narrative themes shifted from violence to guilt, and to PTSD. The war made these topics even more relevant, although the book is set in an alternate future where this war never happened.

2030. While studying the statistics of expanded suicides and self-destruction, big data analyst Kevin Moss notices that the spread dynamics of these incidents resemble the progression of a pandemic. However, he never manages to fully understand the nature of the disease that would later be named after him, as he falls victim to the virus, committing a horrendous suicide.

Among the novel’s versatile cast there are Thierry and Sonia, a young couple spending their second honeymoon on Pleasure Island, a hidden tropical paradise; a gorgeous Michelle, an owner of a marketing agency in Paris, who had a bitter-sweet love affair with Thierry in the past, her teenage son Quentin, as well as her non-binary lover Vic; Sonia's parents, Russian-Jewish immigrants who have made a successful business in the US; Mirabel, a flight attendant suffering from alcoholism and nymphomania; Charlie Kumamoto, a Japanese-American marine stationed on the other side of Pleasure Island; participants and victims of the war in Yugoslavia who are futilely trying to forget their past and heal the wounds that have already been passed down to their children. All of them, in one way or another, will encounter Moss's disease as the epidemic swiftly spreads across the world.

Its first stage resembles the flu, the second – a transcendental trip, and in the third, an immense guilt emerges inside the afflicted individual, growing to a point where it becomes unbearable. This guilt could be towards parents, children, spouses and lovers, the underprivileged, the ravaged nature, the victims of wars and outbreaks of violence. The feeling of unbearable guilt pushes the afflicted person to the edge, where suicide seems like the only way out.

However, not everyone succumbs to the disease. Some possess innate immunity, for some, the disease takes a mild form, and others are saved by the arrival of a vaccine. But how safe is the vaccine itself? By safeguarding people from the sense of guilt, wouldn't the vaccine kill conscience itself? The questions are many, and now, groups of religious extremists storm the medical lab building...

Despite its substantial volume the novel doesn't fit the mold of what is typically referred to as a "big Russian novel." This is a rare case when a Russian novel has little to do with anything Russian. The author is not interested in Russia, its history, or its problems. Among the cast of some thirty characters, only two have Russian roots, having long left their heritage behind. According to the author, Sergey Kuznetsov drew inspiration from books like A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, and above all, Infinite Jest. The common denominator is the authors' intent to confront the reader with the unbearable: with depression, pain, suffering, and violence. The Meat Grinder adds guilt and the torment of conscience to the mix.

In The Meat Grinder, Sergey Kuznetsov stays true to his signature writing approach: the novel is a gaudy yet finely interlaced patchwork of life stories. Each individual voice is surgically pitched and masterly directed into a powerful symphony on modern-time ambiguities and fears. This is a brutal, frightening, and relentless book, but through the darkness a faint glimmer of hope still flickers.

Book details

Novel, 2023

196,143 words

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