The Stranger by Max Frei

The Stranger is a slow-moving, epic dream-work. First published in Russia in 1996, it was finally released in English translation in 2009. The author and narrator, Max Frei, is an underachiever night-owl who has recurring dreams of another world. Near the beginning of the book, Max is rewarded for his persistent dreaming with a job in the dream world, and instructions on how to get there. Skeptical, he tries – and succeeds in entering Echo, the city he’s been dreaming about. He is given a job working the night shift for “The Department of Absolute Order,” something like a city police investigative bureau. He acquires new friends and responsibilities with his new position, and eventually comes into some very strange powers.

It reminds me in some ways of China MiĆ©ville’s books about strange cities. And in some ways it reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork city guard, although the humor is not as broad. But mostly, it’s unique and not easy to describe. The language is strangely formal, perhaps an artifact of translation. It has a surreal feel, appropriate for a novel set in a dream. The ‘authorities’ are strangely unmoved by the murders and mysteries they encounter.

I did not discover two additional delightful features of The Stranger until several weeks after I had finished it. First, the author, Max Frei has written many more books set in this dream world called Echo, and second, Max Frei is actually a pen name of Svetlana Martynchik. The bad news is that as of 2010, only this first volume of her many books has been translated into English.

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