The Commissar’s Report
“I hated the smell of boiled cabbage. I was sure that Enemy Number One did not smell of boiled cabbage.”
Okay, this book is hilarious. If you haven’t read Martyn Burke, it is time to indulge in this obscure, brilliant writer.
The Commissar’s Report follows Dmitri, a young boy who grows up in Russia reading his father’s contraband Life magazines, as he grows up to work as a diplomat in Enemy Number One – the United States. Unfortunately, this prestigious position put him in an unfathomable dilemma: he is assigned to destroy the one place he loves the most. His resulting travels and escapades include purchasing a plastic flamingo; outrunning a childhood friend turned mortal enemy thanks to Dmitri accidentally getting him sent to a labour camp in Siberia; hiding his growing, and completely accidental, stock market wealth from the big guys at the Kremlin; and beating a man with a tube full of nuclear bomb blueprints at a Dodgers game. If this doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will.
These varied and always-entertaining romps are set against the bleak reality of the Cold War, and Dmitri is in no way immune to the horrors of Russia, or the U.S. spy network that is in a turbulent cycle of growth and destruction. Dmitri is able to trust no one, and he constantly fears for his life: this novel isn’t all laughs. Running seamlessly through the narrative are plots of revenge so sinister and chilling that I repeatedly looked over my shoulder on the GO Train during a single morning’s commute. The humour of Dmitri’s antics and the dark reality of human nature in some of its cruellest moments play off one another wonderfully, creating a darkly comic story that truly doesn’t cease to entertain.
In all honesty, this book contains a multitude of coincides and unbelievable events, but I couldn’t help but root for Dmitri. The satire is, admittedly, pretty heavy handed – especially the thread in which Dmitri accidentally makes a fortune in the stock market and becomes a sort of “closet capitalist.” Even its very episodic style wasn’t enough to turn me away – maybe I was just in the mood for a light-hearted, ridiculous read. As I was reading, I couldn’t decide whether Dmitri was touched by incredibly good luck, or incredibly bad luck. I decided that, amidst all of the funny panic, it really didn’t matter.
If you’re looking for something entertaining, search no further. It might not be high literature, but The Commissar’s Report was exactly what I needed and I would not hesitate to recommend it. I laughed out loud more than with any other novel in recent memory, and I was left with a lot to think about – to me, that’s a win!
P.S. If you’re looking for more of a good thing, check out Burke’s latest novel, Music for Love and War – it is equally absorbing.