One Lost Cosmonaut in the Forgotten Regions of Russia

20 Jul

Who is he? Where is he lost? Why did he go there?

The lost cosmonaut is Daniel Kalder, a Scottish novelist, who hits the road for a challenging journey to the forgotten places of post socialist Russia. Unlike the average tourist who prefers visiting exotic places where the people are well distinguished and their culture is well preserved, Kalder travels to the ethnic republics of Russia where the ingenious people, their customs, traditions, language and heritage are claimed to be disappearing. To discover the truth about the inhabitants of those republics or something else he does not fully understands, Kalder boldly goes to Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El and Udmurtia – places where nobody visits.

Lost Cosmonaut

His anti-tourist travel novel – Lost Cosmonaut is fun to read not only because Kalder makes up some stories to deceive the reader and probably to sell easily his book, but also because he has an attitude of adventurer who anticipates bizarre and dangerous meetings and events. The major theme of the novel is nothingness because the author observes dilapidating buildings and deserted landscape.

I perceive Kalder as an orientalist on some occasions because he possesses Western prejudiced outsider interpretation of Russia. He purposefully looks for example supporting the notion that the locals are irrational.

mutant babies, picture by Kalder

mutant babies, picture by Kalder

In Tararstan, where the natives are Muslims, he describes thoroughly the vanity project – Peter the Great’s collection of deformed babies in jars, and all useless artifacts he has collected.

Chess Palace, Kalmykia, picture by Kalder

Chess Palace, Kalmykia, picture by Kalder

While Kalder is in Kalmykia, where locals are the only ethnic Mongols and Buddhists in Europe, he is purposefully looking for the so called Chess City which has been build for a world tournament to attract the attention of foreigners and to glorify the republic, but after the world championship the  city is dilapidating and the Chess Palace is unused.

There are examples in the book that support the argument that the author is also a non orientalist be cause he describes encounters and practices which are not irrational. In Mari El, where the nation is Finno-Urgic, he does not only meet a druid but he also finds a practice that is very rational.

Virginia newsletter, Mari El, picrute by Kalder

Virginia newslatter, Mari El, picture by Kalder

Kalder meets Maxim who owns a mail order bride agency, called Virginia, which is an intermediator between Russian women and Western men. The reader can perceive the Mari women as very rational to use the services of Virginia because of several circumstances. Firstly, the healthy and decent Mari men immigrate to the famous cities of Russia such as Moscow, St. Peterburg etc. where they find jobs and subsistence in the heavy industry. Secondly, Mari women are trapped in that forgotten republic unable to immigrate and find a job. Lastly, the men, who stays in Mari El are alcoholics and die younger, are not a perfect match for a family life which women crave for. Therefore, Mari women look for a good life abroad with a foreigner thanks to Virginia.

The author is not limited understanding the facts about the life in Russia’s ethnic republic because he is interested to some extent in the history of the places, the transitional processes and the consequences of events over the population of the republics. In attempt to get to know the locals and their identity, Kalder discovers something about himself. He visits those deserted places to see a reflection in himself. Although the novelist reveals the fact that the Russification process is almost complete in many of the ethnic republics, especially in Udmurtia, where Mikhail Kalashnikov is from and where the locals have submitted helplessly, he admits that not the ingenious people in Russia are disappearing, but Scots in Scotland.

To get to know places you have never heart and visited before or perhaps you are never going to see, I recommend reading the book. Lost Cosmonaut is readable and pleasant book. While reading about the nothingness, Kalder’s friends, encounters and bizarre descriptions, you might perhaps discover something about yourself.

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