Monday Begins on Saturday

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First edition (Russian)

Monday Begins on Saturday (Russian: Понедельник начинается в субботу) is a 1965 science fiction / science fantasy novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky with illustrations by Yevgeniy Migunov. Set in a fictional town in northern Russia, where highly classified research in magic occurs, the novel is a satire of Soviet scientific research institutes, complete with an inept administration, a dishonest, show-horse professor, and numerous equipment failures. It offers an idealistic view of the scientific work ethic, as reflected in the title which suggests that the scientists' weekends are nonexistent.

The "Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry," located in the fictional Northern Russian town of Solovets, is portrayed as a place where everyone must work hard willingly, or else their loss of honesty is symbolized by hair growing from their ears. These hairy-eared people are viewed with disdain, but, in a turn symbolic of Soviet times, many of them stay in the institute because it provides them with a comfortable living no matter what.

Tale of the Troika, which describes Soviet bureaucracy at its worst, is a sequel, featuring many of the same characters.

Characters and events[edit]

The novel is written from the point of view of Aleksandr Ivanovich Privalov (usually called Sasha), a young programmer from Leningrad, who picks up two hitchhikers during a road trip north through Karelia. After the two find out that he is a programmer, they convince him to stay in Solovets and work together with them in the Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry (abbreviated NIIChaVo in Russian, which sounds very close to "Ничего", the word for "nothing").

The book contains a large number of references to well-known Russian fairy tales and children's stories: Baba Yaga makes an appearance as does Zmey Gorynych and the Learned Cat from Pushkin's "Ruslan and Lyudmila," who turns out to be a slightly demented bard. Some figures from mythology also appear such as genies and Cain. The author portrays these persons and concepts (such as magic) either as objects of scientific inquiry or members of the Institute. Merlin, for example, is described as an incompetent boaster and is in charge of the Institute's Department of Predictions. The Technical Helpdesk is headed by one Sabaoth Baalovich Odin, also described as the most powerful wizard in the universe, while the vivarium is staffed by Alfred, a vampire.

The novel is remarkable for its colorful characters. For example, Cristóbal Josevich Junta was formerly a Grand Inquisitor, and is now the head of the Department of the Meaning of Life. He is also a talented taxidermist. It is rumored that his collection includes a Standartenführer of the SS, an erstwhile friend of Junta's and also a taxidermist. Cristóbal Josevich, so goes the rumor, was equally skilled, only faster. Fyodor Simeonovich Kivrin, the head of the Department of Linear Happiness, is a stuttering big guy, an eternal optimist, an apprentice programmer, a fan of Erle Stanley Gardner, and a mentor of sorts to Privalov. Modest Matveevich Kamnoedov (whose surname translates to "stone-eater") is an archetypal administrator and bureaucrat who does not understand the "Monday begins on Saturday" work ethic. On New Year's Eve, he directs Privalov to turn off the lights and lock all doors, but Privalov soon finds out that everyone is still at the Institute and research continues. For example, the archetypically rude Viktor Korneev (usually called Vitka) claims to have left his clone to work in his lab, which Privalov recognizes to be Korneev himself, because clones never sing or show any emotion.

Much of the action centers on the laboratory of Amvrosiy Ambroisovich Vybegallo (roughly "one who runs out", a fictional surname based on ancient Polish-Lithuanian names like Jagiello), a professor whose gargantuan experiments are spectacularly wasteful and crowd-pleasing but utterly unscientific. On a New Year's Day, in his quest for an "ideal man" he hatches a "model of a completely satisfied man" who can instantly satisfy any of his wants. The model (called a "cadaver" in the institute's jargon) attempts to consume the whole universe, but Roman Oyra-Oyra manages to stop him by throwing him a genie in a bottle. Vybegallo is modeled in large part on Trofim Lysenko, the charlatan and politico responsible for many setbacks in the science of genetics in USSR.

The final part of the book concerns the mystery of Janus Poluektovich Nevstruev, the director of the institute, who is known to be one man in two personas, called A-Janus and U-Janus. The latter fact was commonly acknowledged, but generally not questioned, until the main characters find out that U-Janus is a future version of A-Janus who started traveling back in time in a peculiar way: each day at the stroke of midnight he goes to the previous day instead of the next one (dubbed "discrete contramotion").

Genre classification[edit]

While the events of the novel are fantastic and are unlike most science fiction in that they are not explained, this work is traditionally considered one of science fiction, rather than fantasy for a number of reasons: the genre of fantasy did not exist in Soviet Union and rare exceptions were formally classified as sci-fi by publishers; the authors have written many books that are undoubtedly science fiction; the underlying philosophy is that of science.

Translations[edit]

The first English translation was published by DAW Books in 1977.[1] In August 2005, Seagull Publishing, London, published a translation by Andrew Bromfield titled Monday Starts on Saturday (ISBN 978-0954336820).[2] The publisher described it as "the Russian equivalent of Harry Potter, written 40 years earlier". The book features illustrations by Evgeny Migunov, one of the best illustrators of the works of the Strugatsky brothers.

Puns and hints[edit]

  • The Russian language abbreviation for the institute, NIICHAVO, sounds like a colloquial pronunciation for the word "nichevo" ("it doesn't matter" or "nothing"). In the English translation by Andrew Bromfield, the name of the Institute has been translated as NITWITT (National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy).
  • The place of "Solovets" hints at Solovetsky Islands, with their historical and mythological associations
  • "A-Janus and U-Janus" is a hint to Janus Bifrons. In Russian, the word "litso" means both "person" and "face" (hint to Janus).
  • Vybegallo with his pseudo-commoner appearance and radical pseudoscientific ideas is a hint to Trofim Lysenko[3]

References[edit]

  • Online text at Lib.ru (Russian)
  • Byron Lindsey, "On the Strugackij Brothers’ Contemporary Fairytale Monday Begins of Saturday". Book chapter. "The Supernatural in Russian Literature". Editor: Amy Mandelker. Columbus: Slavica, 1988: 290-302.