Balalaika is a nonfiction novel about Asif Farooq and his journey to build a full-scale Soviet jet fighter out of paper and glue. Equal parts biography, history, critique, and poetic reflection, the book explores an ephemeral yet monumental sculpture by an outsider artist in Miami.
As a technical manual, the text muses on the paper plane’s many parts and functions. As a conceptual guide, the book provides historical and philosophical context for the warplane. Mostly though, it’s a biography of Farooq, a Miami-born Pakistani artist whose obsession with the Cold War started as a kid in the 1980s. The book will document the harrowing and hilarious events in Farooq’s very special life.
Historically, the novel delves into Stalin’s aviation gulag—how the real MiG-21 came to be—and the global histories of flight and aviation. The book probes questions of monumental art, masculinity, redemption, and representation of war machines in art history and popular culture. Since starting the book in 2014, Asif and I have become close friends. The book is poetic documentation of this friendship, and of all the eccentric relationships that have revolved around the plane.
During the initial phase of research, several texts were published:
“A History of Human Flight in 58 Bullets” appeared in The Miami Rail.
“Asif Farooq’s Paper Plane” appeared in Interview.
“Amelia Earhart’s Hialeah Layover” appeared in The Miami Rail.