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Ludmila's Broken Englishby DBC Pierre
Synopses & Reviews
A wild and brilliant tale by the winner of the Man Booker Prize and one of our most original storytellers.
On a Tuesday in terror-struck London, Blair and Bunny Heath become the first adult conjoined twins ever successfully separated. On a Tuesday in the war-torn Caucasus, Ludmila Derev accidentally kills her grandfather. By December, they find themselves trudging together through a snow field, staring down the barrel of a rebel's gun.
Ludmila sets out on a journey west to save her family from starvation and marauding Gnez troops. Hers is an odyssey of sour wit, even sourer vodka, and a Soviet tractor probably running on goat's piss. The Heath twins are released from a newly privatized institution rumored to have been founded for an illegitimate royal baby. They are plunged into a round?the?clock world churning with opportunity, rowdy with the chatter of freedom, self?empowerment, and sex. Dangerous cocktails and a Russian Brides Web site throw these unforgettable characters together with explosive results.
DBC Pierre's second novel confirms his place in the ranks of today's most audacious and acclaimed novelists.
"Pierre's debut, Vernon God Little, won the Man Booker and the Whitbread prizes in 2003; the book narrated a grim and bizarre Columbine-like aftermath in smalltown Texas. Here, Pierre widens his scope in comparing and combining the sordid lives of formerly conjoined twins in the U.K. with that of a seductress from the war-torn Caucasus. The author, whose pen name initials stand for 'Dirty But Clean,' begins by highlighting the adult Heath twins' childish antics in a terror-threatened London. Upon their medical separation as adults (effected in a prologue; they were conjoined at the abdomen) and release from a private institution, Blair, intrepid and sexually ripe, and Bunny, a feeble asexual, enter the real world and must learn to rely on one another in new ways. Meanwhile, miles away in Ubilisk-Kuzhniskia, the beautiful, sarcastic Ludmila Derev has accidentally killed her incestuous grandfather, the family's sole breadwinner, and must save her family from starvation. Her sharp tongue pulls her into a Russian brides Internet scam, throwing her in the path of the traveling Heath brothers. With a mix of offbeat composition and intoxicating insight, Pierre's dystopian work is in a genus all its own; he succeeds in shocking his audience with this maddeningly entertaining encore." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Ludmila's Broken English' is the worst novel I've read since DBC Pierre's debut novel, 'Vernon God Little.' That nasty satire about the Columbine massacre won the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award in 2003 during a fit of British tastelessness. Pierre, an Australian con man whose real name is Peter Finlay, took the pseudonym DBC as a play on his nickname: Dirty But Clean. Now 'Ludmila's Broken... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) English' presents a slightly different paradox: Dirty But Dull. In alternating chapters, we follow two sets of characters. Blair and Gordon 'Bunny' Heath are conjoined twins who have lived their entire lives in a state-run institution called Albion in England. (Like so much in this chaotic story, the allusion to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is never consequential.) Under a newly privatized health service, officials decide that 'one robust, independent life was better than two lives half-lived,' and so the Heaths are surgically separated. But lo and behold, they both survive, and they're sent out into the modern world at the age of 33. Blair, the more physically robust one, is desperate to experience everything, particularly sex, while Bunny — frightened, frail and asexual — would rather escape the excitement of the city and return to Albion. With these two naifs out on the town, there's plenty of potential for witty commentary on a culture grappling with the globalization of business and terror. But Pierre provides only meager hints of these themes. 'The Heaths' collision with the new world,' he writes, 'was as shocking to behold as a lorry crashing into a pram.' Actually, the twins barely make contact with the new world. Their only real adventure in London is a trip to a pub, which leads inexplicably to a job offer from a transnational corporation. The twins are provided with a male-enhancement drink mix and sent to Eastern Europe to evaluate women for the company's Internet-bride service. Meanwhile, far away in the frozen, war-torn Russian Caucasus, a beautiful young woman named Ludmila Derev has finally grown so tired of being raped by her grandfather that she stuffs a glove down his throat and kills him. Unfortunately, this solution robs the family of its only source of income: Grandpapa's pension check. Facing starvation, they decide to sell their tractor and send Ludmila into the city to get a job at the propeller factory. Or the whorehouse. Whatever. She's tough, she's caustic, and she's got some fractured English she can parlay into a job (perhaps as a shameless imitator of Alex in Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Everything Is Illuminated'). These parallel plot lines converge like railroad tracks — at a point on the horizon that recedes before us as we trudge through a series of inane, repetitive arguments. Bunny and Blair bicker endlessly about how and how quickly they should plunge into the world: '"I'm not playing any more, Bunny. We're thirty-three. This is our first real crack at life and I'm sorry if I've given the impression I might spend it withering away with you, but I've heard a clock ticking and it bloody ticks for me." '"Tolls for me." '"I'm speaking!" '"Sorry, it's actually a bell that tolls. Tolls for thee, my mistake. 'Send not to ask for whom — "' '"Shut up! ... I'm not allowing you to get away with this. We're here now. It's the world. I don't know what your hang-up is, but I'm jumping in." '"You're the one with the hang-up, pal." '"No, Bunny, you're the one with the hang-up."' Meanwhile, Ludmila's family bickers on and on, too, about how they'll raise money, how they should bury the grandfather and how they might continue to cash his checks. Here's the grandmother screaming at Ludmila's brother, in a passage that could appear at almost any point in the novel: 'You have an entire zoological garden of questions today ... when, in fact, there's only one tiny bald question to be asked: where is the money from the tractor? Perhaps, if you show us it, we might feed you. But remember this ... again it was your mothers who had to feed your mouth like a naked bird! Because even with the strength of a square hammer you're too stupid to feed yourself or your family! Our teeth are lost and broken from chewing your food for you. ... You're worse than a legless dog!' Yes, there's a certain linguistic energy here, but it drains away through constant repetition. And who wants to satirize starving, desperate peasants in the Caucasus, anyway? As the Heath brothers wend their improbable way toward Ludmila, the story involving her family sinks lower when an official arrives to investigate the grandfather's pension check. There's some belabored comedy involving his body — He's not dead; he's just a sound sleeper! — and lots of parody of Soviet-era bureaucracy that might have seemed wry in the 1950s. All this silliness culminates in a grisly finale of slaughter and rape. Pierre claims that the native dialect Ludmila speaks in Ublilsk is 'the language most exquisitely tailored to the expression of disdain.' I could have used her help. Ron Charles is a senior editor at The Washington Post Book World.", Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Only daring (and controversial) Booker Prize winner Pierre would risk a plot like this." Library Journal
"[O]verextended narrative with an underdeveloped plot....[A] stick-figured, incongruously plotted, gratuitously indulgent novel..." Kirkus Reviews
"Ludmila's Broken English is the worst novel I've read since DBC Pierre's debut novel, Vernon God Little....Dirty But Dull." Ron Charles, Washington Post
"Embrace Pierre's full-bodied, freewheeling technique on the first page or get ready for a thoroughly dislocating ride." Oregonian
"[I]ncomparably original, fresh storytelling that leaves the bulk of contemporary satirical storytelling far behind...Pierre dazzles with self-confident, in your face, utterly original brilliance..." Seattle Times
"This delirious narrative floats somewhere outside literal written words....[A] wonder..." Los Angeles Times
"No novelist is more his own man than DBC Pierre...[he] takes gigantic risks." The Times [London]
About the Author
DBC Pierre is the author of Vernon God Little, which won the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award. He lives in County Leitrim, Ireland.
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