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Max Frei

Translated by Polly Gannon

The Labyrinths of Echo, Book One

Gollancz (2009)

Reviewed by David Buchbinder, June 2010

It is always interesting to read the fantasy or speculative fiction of a culture other than one’s own.  Even allowing for the many problems inherent in the act of translation—for it constantly involves not merely substituting one word in one language for an equivalent in the other language, but also looking to match the cultural weight and implication of each word, each phrase, each clause, each sentence in the one language with its equivalent (though this will almost always be only approximate) in the other tongue—such works of fiction nearly always cause me, at least, as a reader to feel as though I have swerved and skidded so as to fetch up looking askew at the very genre (or, if you prefer, subgenre) concerned.  Often one tries to find equivalents to these narratives in one’s own language and culture; this is not, however, always a successful quest.

Written originally in Russian, The Stranger is the first in a decalogy (or series of 10 books) titled The Labyrinths of Echo which attracted an enthusiastic following; this volume was published originally in 1997 but not translated into English and published until nearly a decade later.  Max Frei, its ostensible author, is also the central character in this strange tale about a 30-year-old man who is pulled from this world and its realities into what he had thought was a dream world in which he had found himself on a number of occasions while asleep, but which turns out to be real enough.  (In fact, “Max Frei” is a pseudonym for Svetlana Martynchuk.)

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