'Great Glass Sea' Presents A Dark Vision Of Bright Nights

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NPR's Arun Rath talks to Josh Weil about his new novel The Great Glass Sea, which imagines a dystopian Russia of 24-hour daylight and 24-hour labor under a greenhouse dome.


You are listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Imagine a world of 24-hour daylight designed to maximize worker productivity and corporate profit. This is the world created by author Josh Weil in his novel "The Great Glass Sea." Set in an alternate reality Russia, the novel follows twin brothers as they live under the dome of a gas greenhouse that represents both prosperity and oppression. Josh Weil is the author of "The Great Glass Sea" and joins me now from NPR's Culver City Studios. Josh, welcome to the show.

JOSH WEIL: Thanks. It's great to be here.

RATH: You have to imagine a Russia where they've launched these space mirrors to direct sunlight. Let's have you read an excerpt from this book. This is talking about what had happened after what was really history as we knew it.

WEIL: OK. That was how it was after perestroika. That was how it was until the mirrors came, until the oligarch proposed to make an experiment of the city - the first place on earth illumined by the sun for every hour of every day of all the seasons of the year. He would take most depressed, torpid town in Russia and grow its productivity as if beneath a heat lamp, sprout a work rate unparalleled in the world. It would become a hothouse of output, a field of ceaseless yield.

RATH: This sounds pretty dark.


RATH: Even though it's all bright. But the mirrors - for as much promise as they hold, they don't really make things a lot better for everybody.

WEIL: Oh, I think that's true. The mirrors are essentially a malevolent force. And in that sense, they speak to some of the pressures that I think we face in society now for perpetual growth, for constant productivity, for technological advancement. All of a sudden, we're expected to be on all the time, able to be connected all the time. It kind of to leeks into our leisure time, so that what our idea of leisure time is has been changed. And that's exactly how the mirrors work in this world that I'm - this fictional world that I'm writing about.

RATH: As we mentioned, the novel takes place in an alternate reality Russia, but it's, of course, heavily influenced by real Russia. Why'd you go to Russia?

WEIL: You know, I first went there when I was 14. It was the last year that it was the Soviet Union. And so I went as an exchange student, lived within a host family in a city to the far north of the country. And it was so unlike anywhere I'd ever been, and it got really deep into me.

RATH: Well, when you're working on this novel, or since then - I'm wondering, have you run this past your Russian friends? What do they think about your imagined dystopia?

WEIL: I don't think any of my Russian friends think, oh, Josh is trying to write something that's going to reveal the Russian soul or the true Russian character now in contemporary Russia. It's not at all what I'm trying to do. It's why I couch this in fables. It's why it's an alternative present. I'm wrestling with ideas that spring from that place and also spring from the way that that place reflects my own life and my own society here in America.

RATH: The novel is "The Great Glass Sea" by the Josh Weil. Josh, thanks so much.

WEIL: Thanks very much.

RATH: This is NPR News.

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