I‘ve recently finished reading Roadside Picnic by Strugatsky Brothers and absolutely loved it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story a few weeks later and wanted more. This is when I decided to pick up “Monday Begins on Saturday” to continue indulging myself into the great writing of these classic Soviet Sci-Fi authors.
A programmer Aleksandr Privalov is travelling solo in the Northern Russia to Solovets to meet his friends there. Along the way, he picks up 2 hunters-hitchhikers who are headed to the same city. As they ride along, the strangers learn that their driver is a programmer and offer him a job at the institute where they work. Really promising beginning so far.
The hunters take Aleksandr to the Hut on the Chicken Legs to spend a night. This is when unusual things start happening. Privalov finds that the host of the Hut – Naina Kievna resembles Baba Yaga – a witch from the Slavic folklore. There is a speaking mirror in his room, a huge cat that tells fairytales, a mermaid on the tree outside the Hut and many other oddities. This is the moment when the book started to remind me some of the children’s story about magical and imaginary beings. Yet, I continued reading as I wanted to see what happens next.
Aleksandr makes it through the night and gets out for a walk in the morning. He throws a bucket in the nearby well but takes out a pike instead. That pike, however, is not ordinary – it can speak and it can fulfill any fishes. A really funny dialog is happening between Privalov and the pike. The pike is saying that some people ask her to bring them TV or transistor. Others want her to complete the sawmill process for them. She asks Privalov to wish for something simple such as invisible hat or some boot runners.
Similar stories continue to happen with Privalov. At the end of the first chapter, he finds out that the Hut on the Chicken Legs belongs to NITWITT (National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy). This is where the strangers he picked up on the road work. He once again receives an offer to join the Institute and finally agrees.
As I finished reading the first chapter, I was far away of thinking about this book as sci-fi. This was a mystical fairytale to me which had a spirit similar to “Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov. I felt somewhat betrayed as I was looking forward to some proper sci-fi story as I picked up the book. I did continue reading though as I was somewhat interested what awaits the main character at the Institute.
However, the second chapter that tells a story about the work of NITWITT was an absolute torture for me to read. I found it extremely boring – there were several times when I wanted to give up on this book. This part is filled with numerous extra characters with what seemed like meaningless things happening to them. At some point I couldn’t bare it and just brut-forced reading through the pages. I kept going only to see if I manage to find the meaning of the message in this book towards the end.
I must say I did enjoy the third and final chapter of the story. It had the most sci-fi feel to me and there was an interesting plot to follow. But it was still spoiled for me due to the fact that I didn’t like the second part at all.
Overall, I give this book a rating of 3 out of 5. I did enjoy the lightness and the humor of the first chapter and a more thought provoking final part of the story. I also found the meaning behind the title of the book satisfying. “Monday Begins on Saturday” is a motto of the typical engineer at the Wizardry Institute who is fully devoted to their craft and doesn’t like to take weekends. I can’t recommend against this book but it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.
Saving here some of my favorite quotes from the book (I’ve read it in Russian).