My first visit to Kazakhstan coincided with the first book I ever read in Russian. Even though I studied Russian for nearly 12 years, the only things I ever read were textbooks and autobiographies.

Now I decided to give it a go and actually try to read a novel in Russian. Of course, as ambitious as I am, I started from the top, and by the top I mean the only book by Dostoyevsky I haven’t read – Idiot. Very soon (by very soon I mean the first 5 pages) I realized that Dostoevsky is a challenge I am not ready to face without a dictionary, so I passed on to something lighter – Sergey Minaev’s Videoty – the sequel of his famous novel The Chicks. I read The Chicks several months ago in Bulgarian and I was quite impressed by Minaev’s style. Of course, he is vulgar, brutal, and sometimes insensitive, but hey, he is talking about the “values” and “morals” of contemporary society. He ought to be vulgar, brutal, and insensitive, as this is the world we are currently living in.

In Videoty we meet Andrei Mirkin two years after the unfortunate AIDS incident. Mirkin has spent the last two years in Holland, living a trivial existence with a girl named Helen. However, when his friends Anton and Vanya call him with an offer to lead his own TV Show on Moscow’s most popular TV channel, Mirkin instantly catches the plane and returns to his ordinary life – drugs, alcohol, forgettable nights, expiration dating, and shallow girls. Soon, however, Andrei realizes he is not the guy he used to be 2 years ago. Mirkin despises the TV show he leads; he condemns the public media and the tools it uses to control the masses. Andrei indulges in his former lifestyle only to discover he feels lonelier than ever. Being a TV star and having many followers and imitators doesn’t translate into happiness. When meeting Natasha Andrei feels it is time for him to change. However, is he capable of leaving behind his old habits and entering into an honest and loyal relationship?

Minaev cleverly compares contemporary society to video idiots (hence the title Videoty). We are controlled and possessed by the mass media sometimes without even realizing it. All the endless TV shows work towards identity and conformity (in the negative way). We are told what to listen to, how to dress, how to act, how to look like. If you are different – you are weird. If you are different – you are an outcast. We’ve become video idiots – slaves of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. We have more than 500 friends, yet no one to go out and have a cup of coffee. We can talk endlessly on Skype, yet somehow when we go out we have nothing to tell each other. We have replaced real hugs with virtual teddy bears; real kisses with virtual ones. The test of a real relationship is whether your significant other has admitted to the whole world (IN FACEBOOK) that you are together. Of course, you realized you are dumped also thanks to Mark’s genius invention.

In this abyss of digital information it becomes harder and harder to find this one “special” person out there for you. When a girl dies in his studio, Andrei is devastated. He realizes his life (and the life of the people around him) is pointless. Fame and adoration are temporary, youth is fleeting and Mirkin doesn’t have anything permanent to stick up to. Anything but Natasha.

If you liked Minaev’s style in the first part, you will be even more enthusiastic about this second part. We meet Andrei struggling between his old self and his new self; between the shallowness of his life and the opportunity to enter into a brand new unexplored territory. Sounds familiar? At least to me it definitely is