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Cocain Romance  
Author M. Ageyev
Publication date 1934

The Cocain Romance, or Novel With Cocaine (Roman s kokainom), is a mysterious Russian novel first published in 1934 in a Parisian émigré publication, Numbers, and subtitled "Confessions of a Russian opium-eater". Its author was given as M. Ageyev. The English translation of the title fails to convey the double entendre of the Russian "Роман," meaning both "novel" and "romance."

The Cocain Romance is said to be a Dostoevskyan psychological novel of ideas, which explores the interaction between psychology, philosophy, and ideology in its frank portrayal of an adolescent's cocaine addiction. The story relates the formative experiences of narrator Vadim at school and with women before he turns to drug abuse and the philosophical reflections to which it gives rise. Although Ageyev makes little explicit reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917, the novel's obsession with addictive forms of thinking finds resonance in the historical background, in which "our inborn feelings of humanity and justice" provoke "the cruelties and satanic transgressions committed in its name."

Following its original publication in Numbers, the novel was published in book form; it was scorned as decadent and disgusting, to use the term applied to it by Vladimir Nabokov. In 1983 the novel was translated into French and published to nearly unanimous praise; an English translation (by Michael Henry Heim) was published in 1984. After the French translation was published, there was some brief speculation in literary circles as to whether Novel with Cocaine might actually be the work of Nabokov, perhaps one of his mystifications; the consensus is that Nabokov was not the author. Nabokov's son Dmitri addresses this issue in an afterword to his 1986 English translation of VN's novel The Enchanter.

The real author of the book is probably Mark Levi, a mysterious Russian émigré who sent in a manuscript to the Parisian journal from Istanbul in 1934. Mark Levi returned to the Soviet Union during WWII and spent the rest of his life in Yerevan, where he died on August 5, 1973.

Today, Novel With Cocaine counts John Updike and Will Self among its admirers and is said to have laid the path for William S. Burroughs to pen similar examinations of junky excess.

Quotes

"Early one morning I, Vadim Maslennikov, set off for school (I was going on seventeen at the time) having forgotten the envelope with the first-semester fees Mother had left me in the dining room the day before."

"Before I came in contact with cocaine I assumed that happiness was an entity, while in fact all human happiness consists of a clever fusion of two elements: (1) the physical feeling of happiness, and (2) the external event providing the psychic impetus for that feeling."

"I would stroll down the boulevards and try to catch the eye of every passing woman. I never, as the saying goes, 'undressed them' with my glance, nor did I feel any carnal desire for them. In that feverish state, which might have inspired another, say to write poetry, I would simply stare into the eyes of all women walking in the other direction and wait for a similarly terrifying, wide-eyed look in response. I never accosted a woman who responded with a smile, because I knew that anyone who smiled at a look like mine could only be a prostitute or a virgin."

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