Omon Ra

This book was given to me by my good friend Streety from the book club as one of our traditions where we have a meeting at his house (usually in January) and he dishes out thoughtful book gifts to each of us. Every year he picks out something unusual but relevant for each of us and this year is no exception.

Omon Ra is a piece of Russian literature telling the story of a young boy who always dreamt of the stars and becoming a cosmonaut actually realising his dreams. It’s a short, beautifully written book that offers a glimpse into a life rarely explored. NASA has been done to death but I haven’t seen masses of Russian cosmonaut literature which is the main reason why I find the subject matter so refreshing.

There’s one story that springs to mind when reading this book. I think it’s apocryphal but nonetheless it accurately sums up the East v West attitude to space conquest. You’ll have heard it – NASA invested millions of dollars in designing and making a pen that would work in space but the Russians just used a pencil.

The Russians and Americans were going head to head in the sixties and seventies in the space race and this book delivers a lucid picture of the Russian side of things. There’s a palpable sense of the race too although its never mentioned explicitly the Russian ambition and pride burns brightly.

Omon is the name of the main character and the Egyptian link via Ra is explained in a rather bizarre fashion half way through the book. He’s a working class boy with dreams of the stars who realises his dreams on the first trip to the moon. Or does he?

This book combines the satire of The Truman Show, the down to earth sic fi of Capricorn One and the dourness of soviet literature. It’s hard to review a book without giving the game away but this book delivered a twist I definitely did not see coming. I also loved the lot fi nature of the Russian space programme – the book paints a vivid picture of a space race that’s based on the make do and mend culture that clearly came out of the second world war austerity.

There’s a particularly lovely image of a moon landing vehicle powered by a bicycle welded to the frame of a box with wheels on that is the Russian moon rover. Omon is the power that proplels the vehicle, hunched in a metal box for days on end. Apollo 11 it’s not.

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