The book is a collection of satirical vignettes and thoughts about life in the Soviet Union, gathered into chapters with loose connections both within and between themselves. It looks like it was never finished by the author, so while the looseness is partially intended by the author, it’s also partially due to incompleteness and lack of clarity to the editors of which parts belonged where.
Reading the book thirty years after the end of the USSR, it
doesn’t offer much that is new to anyone who is reasonably well-read on the
Soviet Union. The most interesting part to me was not the satire, but Zinovyev’s
thoughts about the Soviet system. He sees it as something not imposed on the
Russian people from the side, by outside forces or a minority, but as something
grown out of the character of the people itself, a system imposed by the people
on itself. The system is due to moral degradation and causes further moral
degradation. Abolishing the system won’t heal that; this can be only done by
healing the moral degradation, by making people care about others more than their
status and material well-being, by rejecting the temptation to use others for
one’s own purposes and ignore their humanity and dignity.
This is a thought that I’ve seen showing up elsewhere; a person
depicted as an example for such positive behavior is Viktor Maksimovich in
Fazil Iskander’s “Stoyanka Cheloveka”. It’s certainly a sobering thought for someone
like me who had hoped for a trajectory to improvement for Russia after the fall
of Communism; seeing how the country now reverts to old patterns of behavior. We
see the old patterns of collectivist behavior, of serving power and following
the crowd for one own’s gain and in a misguide belief that this is the way to
serve one’s country. It is now clear that Russia only did an incomplete
reckoning with its past. I can only hope that it will free itself again, and won't miss
out on the reckoning this time.
Александр Зиновьев, «Затея», Центрополиграф, Москва 2000