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“The soul looks to art to protect it from the mind…” #SigizmundKrzhizhanovsky @ColumbiaUP @RusLibrary #ReadIndies

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There was high excitement at the Ramblings when I learned that Columbia University Press was bringing out a collection of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky‘s non-fiction writings under their Russian Library umbrella. SK is a massive favourite with me, and I’ve reviewed all of the marvellous NYRB editions of his work, along with an early collection from Glas. So it was a given that I’d want to read this, and CUP were kind enough to provide an ARC which was a marvellous treat!

Back in 2013, when I first read and wrote about SK, I quoted this from Wikipedia: “Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky (11 February [O.S. 30 January] 1887 – 28 December 1950) was a Russian and Soviet short-story writer who described himself as being “known for being unknown”; the bulk of his writings were published posthumously. In 1976, scholar Vadim Perelmuter discovered Krzhizhanovsky’s archive and in 1989 published one of his short stories. As the five volumes of his collected works followed, Krzhizhanovsky emerged from obscurity as a remarkable Soviet writer, who polished his prose to the verge of poetry. His short parables, written with an abundance of poetic detail and wonderful fertility of invention – though occasionally bordering on the whimsical – are sometimes compared to the ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges. Quadraturin (1926), the best known of such phantasmagoric stories, is a Kafkaesque novella in which allegory meets existentialism.” If ever a Soviet author was “writing for the drawer” it was SK, as so little of his work appeared in his lifetime. But intriguingly, as this new collection reveals, there was much more to him than short stories and it was often his non-fiction which managed to make it into print.

“Countries That Don’t Exist” is edited by Jacob Emery and Alexander Spektor, containing fourteen pieces which span SK’s writing career. The earliest, ‘Love as a Method of Cognition” dates from 1912; the final piece with a confirmed date is 1949; and each piece is presented with an introduction by its translator, whose name is given at the end of the piece together with the date if known. The amount of care which has gone into the presentation of the book is impressive, with a marvellous array of translators featured, and I feel I must name-check them all:

Anthony Anenome
Caryl Emerson
Jacob Emery
Anne O. Fisher
Elizabeth F. Geballe
Reed Johnson
Alisa Ballard Lin
Tim Langen
Muireann Maguire
Benjamin Paloff
Karen Link Rosenflanz
Alexander Spektor
Joanne Turnbull

Most of these are names new to me, although Maguire and Turnbull are familiar and favourite translators; all, however, seem to me to have done a magnificent job as there is a consistency of tone in the works which makes them all sound like SK to me! The book comes with an excellent introduction and supporting notes, so there’s all you could need to make this a rewarding reading experience.

But what is SK actually writing *about*, I hear you ask? Well, all manner of things really, and probably as hard to define as his fictions are! His early essays are philosophical, rooted perhaps in the symbolist tradition and exploring the inner and outer worlds, and how we use words to define and explore them. Then there’s literary criticism, as SK explores Shaw and Poe, perhaps unlikely bedfellows, particularly for writers in Soviet-era Russia (though Shaw was very popular there at the time).

Our world is too visible, eye and brain are over strained by a superabundance of vision, by an overdazzlingness of apprehensions – and so they ask that the thing be removed from its visible and tangible place, that it be excluded from time and space; that the realness of reality be less.

This being SK, there are any number of pieces which defy categorisation and straddle the line between essay and fantasy: the title essay explores exactly what it states, countries in fiction such as those in Gulliver’s adventures or (intriguingly enough) the stories of Baron Munchausen, who ended up in one of SK’s own fictions. Chess makes an appearance (as it did in the “Unwitting Street” collection); “A Collections of Seconds” riffs on photography’s ability to pin down a moment; and “The Poetics of Titles” is a particularly interesting piece which explores the naming of a piece of writing and its importance in defining what that piece of writing will be. As always, words and what you can do with them are at the heart of SK’s writing and it’s clear how important linguistics were to him. His wordplay is often dazzling and it’s a tribute to the translators that they’ve captured and conveyed this so vividly.

Needless to say, all of these writings feature SK’s quirky, individual way of looking at, and writing about things. Objects have a life force of their own; the lines between reality and fantasy are often blurred; and SK’s view on what he’s writing about really is unique. Even something like “Moscow in the First Year of the War”, which could just be a stark memoir of the hardships of living during a conflict, is given the SK treatment and he presents what translator Paloff describes as a ‘slice of life’ – an impressionistic look at something as specific as windows, for example, where SK lets their appearance ‘speak’ as to the effect that war is having on them.

Art needs people who rather than acquainting us with the unknown, can disacquaint us with the known, who can take this thing that has become a mind-sore, this trifle right here, and raise it to the power of a dream or mystery.

The book closes with a series of excerpts from SK’s writer’s notebooks, presented in roughly chronological fashion, which share thoughts, aphorisms, and autobiograpical notes. As translator Muireann Maguire mention in her introduction to this, it’s possible to read an increasing sense of despair into the fragments as you get closer to the end, and this did remind me of how heartbreaking it must have been for a gifted author like SK to be pouring his heart and soul into his art, with no outlet to publish it or find a readership. Authors write to be read, to have that dialogue with the reader, and to be forbidden that must be the greatest punishment.

Well, I could go on and on about how brilliant this book is – and you can see by the sheaf of post-its sticking out of my copy what an effect it had on me! But I’ll stop here and just record my thanks to all involved in bringing SK’s work to a wider audience. I guess initial gratitude is to Vadim Perelmuter for discovering the archive and then eventually producing a complete set of his works; and then of course to NYRB and Joanne Turnbull, in particular, for championing his writing. SK was a completely original author, brimming with ideas and concepts and ways of looking at things which completely upend your viewpoint; and we can only be grateful that he kept on writing, with faith in the power of words to transcend his lifespan. This volume is a real triumph and I can ony hope that more SK makes it into English!

Looking back on highlights of 2021’s reading…

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During December, on book blogs and Twitter, I’ve seen many a ‘best of’ post; however, I always prefer to leave my look back on the year until the very end – I have known, in the past, some of my best reads of a year to arrive at the very end! 2021 has not been an easy year in many ways, but I have read more books than ever (my coping mechanism) and so I shan’t pick a best of – I never do – but instead will look back at some of the highlights… 😀

Classic Crime

As always, I have sought consolation at difficult times with murder, mayhem and mysteries! Golden Age Crime has always been a huge favourite and a comfort read for me, and 2021 was no different. As well as any number of marvellous British Library Crime Classics, I’ve managed to find an excuse to revisit Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. And Edmund Crispin, another long-term love, has made appearances here. Really, I doubt I would have made it through the year without crime!!

As an extra crime treat, I was invited to take part in the Crime Reprint of the Year Award by Kate at Cross Examining Crime, and was happy to nominate two favourite books – such fun! 😀

British Library Women Writers

As well as reissuing some wonderful Classic Crime, British Library Publishing have also been releasing stellar titles in their Women Writers series. I’ve covered a number this year, including Edith Olivier’s The Love Child and Diana Tutton’s Mamma. However, a highlight was their reissue of F. Tennyson Jesse’s A Pin to See the Peepshow, a book I regard very highly. I was delighted to take part in the blog tour and sang the book’s praises – a wonderful and moving read!

Russia

Inevitably there are Russians, as books and authors from that country are some of my favourites. I spent time with Dostoevsky for his bicentenary; squeezed in Nabokov short stories; read a wonderful anthology of classic short works, and a brilliant collection of new writing; and reacquainted myself with a recently rediscovered author who wrote for the drawer. I can never read enough Russians, and frankly I think you’ll see plenty more books from that country appearing here in 2022!!

France

As well as a love for Russian culture, I also have a passion for all things French, most particularly Parisian. There were plenty of French treats this year, from unpublished fiction from a favourite writer, a marvellous non-fiction work exploring the culture of mid-century Paris, poetry from that city, some hypnotic prose from Marie Ndiaye and a lovely look at Sylvia Plath‘s relationship to the place. All lovely, and all have drawn me back to reading French authors; I’m currently rediscovering Jean Genet, and have a good number of unread Sartre, Camus and others on the TBR!

Of course, I have to mention Roland Barthes, who has been much on my mind this year. I’ve only read one of his works in 2021, and also Derrida‘s piece on him, but I am keen to continue with him in 2022. A readalong on Twitter of A Love’s Discourse went by the by leading up to Christmas, as my head was in totally the wrong place, but I shall hope to get back to this one soon.

New to me authors vs old favourites

I must admit to being a reader who loves to discover new authors and books, though this year I’ve also sought comfort from the familiar. I don’t do statistics, but I do see from the list I keep that I *have* explored new writers this year. Margarita Khemlin, Marguerite Duras, Amanda Cross, Gilbert Adair and Alex Niven are just a few names who have intrigued this year, but I’m happy to keep the mix of old and new going. From the old guard, George Orwell continues to be a constant delight – I can’t foresee a time when I’ll ever stop reading him! John Berger is a more recent favourite and I’ll definitely be continuing with his works in 2022. Burroughs and Beverley Nichols, a disparate pairing if there ever was one, are both names I love to revisit regularly. Really, there are so many books and so little time, as we always say!

Projects and Reading Events

We get onto shaky ground for some of these, as I’m often a bit rubbish at keeping up with this kind of thing. As far as events go, I co-hosted Read Indies Month in February with Lizzy and this was wonderful fun – so many great independent publishers to support! And Simon and I co-hosted two reading club weeks this year – 1936 and 1976. Both years had an excellent selection of books available to read, and the response was wonderful! I’m happy to say we’ll be running the #1954Club from 18-24 April 2022 and there are some really great books from that year, so do join in!

As for other events, I have dipped into Spanish Lit Month, German Lit Month, Novellas in November and a few more – I like to take part in these when I can and when it fits in with the TBR and also what I fancy reading!

My own personal reading projects, which are all really centred round various Penguin collections, have been pretty intermittent this year – whether from lack of focus, the state of the world or just wrong book at wrong time, the only one I’ve made headway with is the Penguin Moderns box set. I’ve had great fun with this little series of books – there are some marvellous authors and titles in it – and I have high hopes that I might actually finish reading it in 2022!

Disappointments…

I always try to be selective in what I read, but there are occasional misfires and DNFs. I started the year with one, The Housekeeper and The Professor, which really didn’t gel with me; I struggled with Confessions of a Heretic, which was not for me; and I tried to read a high profile book about Russian authors and frankly disliked it immensely. But the balance is heavily in favour of successful reads, so that’s good!!

Poetry

2021 also saw me spending a good amount of time with poets and poetry, and this was a real pleasure. There were biographies – John Sutherland’s marvellous Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me was a highlight, as was Gail Crowther’s magisterial Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, which explored the lives of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I discovered new poets, too, often via the NYRB Poets imprint, and this was particularly wonderful.

Translated works

I generally read a lot of work in translation. And I continued to read a lot of work in translation during 2021 – yay! And I shall continue to do so in 2022. Thank you *so* much to all those who translate works into English – my reading life is richer because of you!

Favourites?

I can *never* pick favourites or a top ten or a book of the year, and my BFF J. always reckons it’s because I read such a disparate range of books. I tend to think she might be right, and in any case I’ve read so many stunners this year it seems wrong to pick out one. But to satisfy those wanting me to choose *something*, a few which particularly stood out were In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, every short story I read by Nabokov, Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, New Model Island by Alex Niven, The Edge of the Object by Daniel Williams and Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis. All of those were oustanding reads, but probably all for very different reasons!!

Well, there you have it! Some of my reading highlights for 2021. Come back to the Ramblings tomorrow to see if I have any plans for the new year, so you can place bets on whether I’ll stick with any of them! 🤣🤣🤣

“… we all live on history’s Unwitting Street” #sigizmundkrzhizhanovsky #joanneturnbull @nyrbclassics

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As anyone with a mountainous TBR knows, it’s often hard to keep track of what’s arrived, what’s to be read next and, actually, what book you’re really in the mood to pick up. A case in point is the book featuring on the Ramblings today; the most recent release from NYRB Classics by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “Unwitting Street” ( translated by Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formazov). I bought it as soon as it came out and was so excited about the fact there was a new collection of his very individual and idiosyncratic writings available. Why, therefore, has it languished unread for so long???

There’s no good reason apart from the usual ‘so many books, so little time’; but suddenly, for no apparent reason, I realised this was the book I HAD to read right now – and it was a wonderful experience from start to finish. SK is an author with whom I’m very familiar, having read the four other books NYRB have issued, all wonderfully translated by the same team, as well as an earlier collection. SK was an author who languished in obscurity for much of his lifely, so his rediscovery is a joy. His stories are quirky, unusual and very individual; his take on life idiosyncratic; and his voice distinctive.

The grass of oblivion likes to be watered with tears: this helps it to grow.

“Unwitting…” collects together 18 short works, set in the Soviet world of the early 20th century, and they’re surreal, moving and memorable. The blurb on the back indicates that these stories are perhaps more playful than his other works in translation; well, yes, sometimes – SK is always playful, I feel, but there are dark and quite profound themes in some of these stories which really do take the breath away…

The first story in the collection, “Comrade Punt”, perhaps sets the scene for the rest of the book, with its tale of a pair of trousers able to take on a life of their own when their usual occupier dies – pretty much because of Soviet beauracracy. Short fables like “The Flyelephant” and “A Page of History” play with our preconceptions; and “The Slightly-Slightlies” starts as a tale of illusions but moves into darker territory when the illusions are dropped. “Journey of a Cage” uses the device of a parrot in a cage being passed from hand to hand to show the dramatic changes taking place in Russia of the time. In a similar fashion, “The Grey Fedora” follows the titular hat on its journey from head to head, ecountering all sorts of people on the way. “Death of an Elf” explores musical inspiration, as does “The Mute Keybord”, and chess turns up in a number of the stories. Then there’s “The Life and Opinions of a Thought” in which a philosopher’s idea fights against being written down.

But the dusk – for now – was otherwise engaged: unbidden, slipping into the hall unheard, it first gingerly touched all the corners, contours, and edges of things. Quietly pressing its gray fingers to window ledges and sills, the corners of the table, the sinuous outlines of men and chessman, the dusk tried to unsettle them. But the things, sealing up their edges, lines, and corners, resisted. Then the dusk’s gray muscles tensed and contracted, its fine cindery fingers clutched at contours and edges more fiercely and tenaciously. And the fastenings gave way: dropping lines, ledges, and planes, the shapes of things loomed up, contours swayed, corners came apart, freeing lines: things began to stream and quietly seep into one another. They were not: as of old.

All of the stories are clever, funny, quirky and so wonderfully written; and SK has a most individual way of saying things, often allowing anything non-human to take on an existence of its own. That particular element always gives his writing a completely individual voice as far as I’m concerned – I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose like this. I’ve seen SK compared with Kafka, Borges and Calvino, and I would certainly agree that he’s a one-off as they are, taking the reader into uncharted territory and twisting their expectations. The blurb describes these stories as ‘philosophical and phantasmagorical’, a description with which I’d agree, but despite that playful element highlighted above there are most definitely dark themes running through the book. I was particularly hit by the story “God is Dead” which explores what actually happens to humanity when they cease to believe in God and so in effect that entity *does* die. It’s a breathtaking piece of fiction delving into human futility and left me quite stunned at the end. I think ‘philosophical’ is definitely the word to apply to SK’s works because you come away from them pondering deeply and with your thoughts and perspectives on life quite changed – well at least, I always do….

SK, via Wikimedia Commons

In some ways I wish I hadn’t waited so long to pick up this wonderful collection, although I’m a firm believer in the right book at the right time – and maybe this was just its time! Whatever – “Unwitting…” was a wonderful, engrossing and entertaining read from start to finish, and a thought provoking one at that. Thank you whoever rescued SK’s writings from the archives, thank you Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formazov for giving him a voice in English, and thank you NYRB for publishing them – my life is enriched by SK’s books!

2017 – or, Distracted by Documentaries…

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That might seem an odd title for a post rounding up my thoughts on my best reads of the year, but I fear that my reading rate has actually slowed down quite a lot over recent months and I suspect that might have something to do with my constantly being distracted by the BBC…..

Margaret Atwood image c. Jean Malek

This all kind of began over the summer months with the series of programmes on BBC4  focussing on Utopias of all sorts, and in particular Prof. Richard Clay’s three-part series on the subject (I also blame him for sending me off down a bit of an iconoclasm rabbit hole…) Since then, I seem to have been awash with documentaries of all sorts, from classical music through Margaret Atwood to Mexican art, all of which are a bit distracting and take the mind away from books (or send the mind off in strange directions after other books aside from the ones I was meant to be reading…) So my rate of reading has slowed down a bit I think generally because of this, and spending time in chunksters like “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment” has compounded the problem.

However, I have read some absolutely marvellous books this year; I never do anything as formal as a top ten, but here are a few of my highlights. And note that two of them have been read in December, so yes! doing one of these lists before January is premature! So – here goes…

Russians

This blog would not be about my reading without having a lot of Russians in there, and 2017 was by necessity dominated by them. It has been, of course, a year of marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution and two of the outstanding books of the year for me were ones dealing with this. China Mieville’s October and the collection 1917, put together by Boris Dralyuk, were fine books which really brought the events of a century ago alive and both will stay with me.

On the Russian fiction front, I spent a great deal of time with some classic chunksters. Finally reading “War and Peace” was a milestone for me, and revisiting “Crime and Punishment” by my beloved Dostoevsky was also a special experience.

There were new treats too, in the form of “The Return of Munchausen” by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, and “Memoirs of a Revolutionary” by Victor Serge. Both authors are recent discoveries and both I would now count as amongst my favourites.  And the wonderful collection of Russian Emigre Short Stories, collected by Bryan Karetnyk and which I covered for Shiny New Books, was a real eye-opener and treat.

Still with Russia, but with non-Russian authors, I actually loved to bits two novels set in that country – “A Gentleman from Moscow” by Amor Towles; and “The Noise of Time”, Julian Barnes’ masterly portrayal of Shostakovich. Really, as a lover of Russian culture and history, I *have* rather been spoiled this year!

Classic Crime

Unsurprisingly, given my taste for it, I’ve delved into a lot of classic crime this year. Much of it has come in the form of lovely books from the British Library Crime Classics editions; and I find it hard to pick favourites from them, although “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” was a real treat.

I also discovered John Dickson Carr with a vengeance. It’s not for nothing he’s known as the king of the locked-room mystery, and I’ve spent many a happy hour with Dr. Gideon Fell this year.

Margaret Atwood

A living legend. A genius. ‘Nuff said. I rediscovered her work this year too, and definitely want to keep that trend going during 2018. Certainly, her non fiction books have been a real revelation and I can’t praise her highly enough.

Translated literature

There has been a *lot* of translated literature flowing through the Ramblings this year – and if I was more organised I daresay I could get the spreadsheet I keep my list of books read in to work out some statistics. I suspect there could well be more translated that native language books in there – maybe I’ll calculate one day…

Anyway, spending time with Georges Perec is always a joy and I read more of his works this year. I still have a book or two left unread, thank goodness – I dread getting to the last of his works available to me in English.

And one of the highlights of my reading year, during December was the book “Malacqua” – an author and book new to me which I stumbled upon because of the recommendation on the front from Italo Calvino. An unusual, hypnotic and memorable work.

Sci-Fi (or slipstream or speculative fiction or whatever  you want to call it…)

I’ve always dipped into this kind of genre over the years, but during 2017 I really reconnected, after dipping into Soviet sci-fi during 2016. The late, great Brian Aldiss is turning out to be something of a treasure, but my main incursions into the genre came via M. John Harrison. I read some of his shorter works for the 1968 Club and then had the joy (also in the last month of the year!) of reading his newest collection of shorter works, “You Should Come With Me Now”. It’s a powerful and unforgettable work and another book of the year arriving at the last minute.

Reading Clubs

On the subject of the reading clubs I co-host with Simon at Stuck in a Book, we spent time in 1951 and 1968 last year, and we have 1977 lined up for this one – do join in if you can, these events are such fun!

2018 – plans or not?

I started 2017 giving myself few challenges and reading plans or restrictions – which seems to have worked best for me, and I plan to continue on that road for 2018. I don’t function well as a reader if I feel that I *must* read a book; instead I intend another year of No Plans At All and simply following the reading muse!

One reading challenge I *will* try to drop in on occasionally is HeavenAli’s centenary read-along for Muriel Spark. I’ve read a fair bit of Spark over recent years, but there are plenty of titles I haven’t read so if the timing is right, I’ll be there…

I must too say thank you to all who drop in here, leave comments, discuss and recommend books – I always love engaging with people about reading, and look forward to interacting with you all in 2018. And thanks also to the lovely publishers who’ve provided review copies this year (and contributed to the lack of space in my house…)

Apart from that – lead on, Reading Muse, I’m right behind you…. 🙂

Outdoing the world’s greatest fabulist

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The Return of Munchausen by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Translated by Joanne Turnbull

mde

I’ve written about Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky on the Ramblings before; an author who was unpublishable under the Soviet regime, his works came to light after the collapse of the USSR and have been gradually published and then translated into English thanks to the great talents of Joanne Turnbull. Three of his works have been issued by NYRB, and I’ve read, loved and reviewed all of them. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that NYRB would be bringing out another volume by SK, in the form of “The Return of Munchausen”. The book is out today and the publisher has kindly provided a review copy.

Every Baron has his flights of fancy… I flatter myself with the hope that I have made better and wider use than any other barons of my right to flights of fancy.

Munchausen was in fact a real historical character, a German nobleman who fought for Russia in the Russo-Turkish war of 1735-39. He gained a reputation for his tall tales, and the German author Rudolf Raspe transmuted him into the fictional fabulist we know him as today, thanks to a fictionalised version of his life. Munchausen has become synonymous with lying, and the real character died back in 1797. However, SK resurrects him rather wonderfully to take on Soviet Russia – and the story is absolutely fascinating.

And in the third place, you are a bad poet, I swear by my pipe, if you do not know that books, if only they are books, may be commensurate with but never proportionate to reality!

Munchausen reappears after 200 years by dropping off the hands of time back into the Palace of Versailles. He makes a base in Berlin, where he spins more fabulous yarns, accompanied by occasional sidekick, the poet Ernst Unding (which translates as Earnest Nonsense). Amusingly enough, he’s announced as:

Baron
HIERONYMUS VON MUNCHAUSEN
Supplier of Phantasms and Sensations
In and Out of This World
Since 1720

Immediately, he’s courted by the great and good, and called upon to tell tales, solve problems and eventually to undertake a secret mission. The Baron is asked to visit Soviet Russia and report back, which he does. Munchausen’s visit to Russia is not relayed directly; instead we see it filtered through his eyes, as he relates his adventures to a rapt London audience. And it’s a fascinating story, as the Baron encounters poverty, twisted logic and a society which says one thing and does another. He even manages an audience with Lenin, who seems to be able to read Munchausen’s mind, and has strong opinions on writers:

A literary hero is naturally curious about literature. About ‘how life smells’. It smells of printer’s ink to the people who populate books or have emigrated to them. So then, all of our penmen are given a choice: feast or fast. Some work steadily; others starve.

Nothing usually fazes the Baron; however, in the nascent Soviet Union he has met his match. In the end, a reality full of such fabrication is too much for the Baron and he takes himself back to where he came from. His visit was in fact spurious, but the stories he invented were sometimes actually real, and the truth is more fantastic than his tales. Munchausen the fabulist is ultimately outdone by the Soviet state, which can create more outlandish untruths than he can deal with.

I swept a fact away with a phantasm, replaced the existent with the non-existent. Always and invariably my phantasms won – always and invariably, that is, until I chanced upon the country about which one cannot lie.

So where to begin talking about “The Return of Munchausen”? Obviously, you have suspend disbelief from the start and just go with the flow. The Baron himself, as presented by SK, is a fantastic creation; confident, convinced that his tales are better than truth, it’s wonderful watching him sail indomitably through the world, an elusive figure following his own agenda. And if there’s something he wants to avoid, he simply jumps back into the book he originally came from.

Then again, how hard could it be for a man who had slipped through the five beams of a star to elude five claws?

Sigizmund_Krzhizhanovsky

However, putting aside the humour, this a book with a serious heart and I would say more directly satirical than his other works. There is a recurring obsession with smoke which occurs throughout the book; of course, smoke and mirrors signify the trickery of politics (both Soviet and in the wider world), but this also brought to mind the book “Smoke” by Turgenev, a book which deals with the illusions existing in Russia during that author’s time. As with all SK’s books, the imagery is unusual and stunning; on the first page, almost the first lines, we read “Now he sprang up the length of a long runner; leaping after him, taking the stairs two at a time, came muddy footprints”. Some of the phrases take your breath away as you’re reading, and even if you weren’t aware of the underlying issues the book is wonderful to read. Its self-referential qualities make it feel almost post-modern at times, and I’ve seen it described as part roman a clef, although it’s not clear whether Munchausen, Unding or the unnamed person in the quote below is standing in for the author himself….

And as for that poor scholar from the country about which one cannot lie, do not worry. I have sent him, by way of compensation, my rough drafts; if he possesses so much as a pair of scissors and a pot of glue, the resulting manuscript should help him on his literary way.

“The Return…” is an extended meditation on the nature of truth, something which must have been sharply relevant to an author living in Soviet Russia and refusing to produce Soviet Realism. The qualities in the Communist state which would be transformed by Orwell into concepts like Doublethink and Doublespeak were already in place; set in 1921, the book was written towards the end of the 1920s when the iron grip of Soviet rule was becoming established so it’s not surprising it was never published. Like so many other authors at the time, SK was most definitely writing for the drawer (the few attempts he made to get his works into print being crushed by the censor).

If you look at Moscow from a bird’s-eye view, you will see: a stone spider in the center – the Kremlin, peering out of four wide open archways at the web of streets it has woven, their gray threads, as in any web, stretching away radially, attaching themselves to distant gates…

moscow-1920s

I found myself profoundly affected by this book; it’s vivid and allusive (and fortunately provided with excellent notes and introduction by Turnbull), and the more I think about it, the more there is in it. SK seems to manage to comment on every aspect of Soviet life, even pulling in a sly reference to the theories of the Communist Manifesto when discussing the attraction of such opposites as a White Russian aristocrat and a Red Guard:

So it always was, so it will always be: antitheses will always trail after theses, but let them marry – and their old friend synthesis will be there like a shot.

If it seems that I’ve pulled out a lot of quotes that’s because the writing is so good and the imagery so outstanding. Although it’s a book with a message, “The Return of Munchausen” is a joy to read as well.

His listeners are all ears, and right away he begins to bend them; first around the edges, then along the auricular cartilage, inward and inward, until they curl up like autumn leaves and, ear by ear, softly and unrustlingly, flutter to the floor. But now his disciplined manservant, who has appeared behind the guests’ backs with dustpan and brush, quietly sweeps up the ears and carries them out.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the book here, as it’s rich with references, thoughts, aphorisms and wild imaginative humour. It’s certainly a work which I’ll return to and which will continue to resonate as I assimilate what it has to say. “The Return of Munchausen” is a deeply thoughtful and fascinating read, and I can’t recommend SK’s books enough,

A Book of Brilliant Things

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Red Spectres: Russian Gothic Tales from the Twentieth Century compiled and translated by Muireann Maguire

I hadn’t realised quite how badly I’d been affected by my reading of “Grey Souls” until I came to try to pick up another book – and found it almost impossible to get into one! I’ve definitely been struggling a little with choosing my volumes recently, and nothing I touched appealed – I’ve just been putting everything aside after the first few pages.

redspectres

However, I finally got over my stumbling block (or reader’s block!) by pulling “Red Spectres” from my pile of Christmas gifts, and it turned out to be exactly the tonic I needed.

The book is a collection of short stories in the Gothic vein, all written under Soviet rule. Now, Russia under the Bolsheviks is perhaps not a place you would expect this type of writing to flourish, but it very obviously did – maybe because this was a good way to disguise political comment, or maybe because it was a way of writing that was so far removed from politics that it was safe.

Whatever the reason, there is a whole genre here, and translator Muireann Maguire has actually written a book on the subject as well as collecting and translating the stories in this volume. And what crackers they are!

It was the fact that there were stories by Bulgakov and Krzhizhanovsky in it that first attracted my eye to Red Spectres – and in fact all but two of the tales are translated for the first time. It’s a fascinating and collection of stories, ranging from tales of ghosts and mirrors, through science gone wrong to seances that only call up the NKVD! Bulgakov is represented by two works: The Red Crown, a civil story of haunting, and A Seance, a wry comment on the clash between superstition and modern ideology. And the new Krzhizhanovsky is a dark story about a medical dummy that comes to live in a quite unnerving manner and lives through the years of turmoil in Russia.

It’s the speed of decline… Savages also love speed. What you seem to consider a sign of your unique refinement is simply atavism. All entertainments of this type – water sports, cycling, races of all kinds, skiing, funfairs, carousels, carriages, horse-racing – this is all a contagious enchantment with the dizzy sensation of free-fall. Speed has a limit beyond which movement along a horizontal plane becomes free-fall . And those who think like you want to create a motion that’s just like free-fall. What could be more primitive? And, one might say, pointlessly primitive? (Grin; The Grey Motor Car)

But the real revelation to me was the discovery of Aleksandr Chayanov; an agronomist by day, he also wrote 5 short stories and a novel. Maguire has translated three of these, and they’re a standout in the collection. “The Tale of the Hairdresser’s Mannequin” tells of a man consumed by an obssession with the original woman who inspired a mannequin, one of a pair of Siamese twins, and his quest to track her down; “Venediktov” (which has the distinction of having inspired Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”), is a story of devilish possession and pursuit through Moscow; and “The Venetian Mirror” (one of two marvellous mirror stories in the collection) plays on our uneasiness with the reflected world and our fascination with the possibility of entering it. His writing is excellent and evocative, and the storytelling compelling.

I love the Moscow streets by night, gentle reader; I love to wander through them in solitude, without any goal in mind. The dozing houses might be made of cardboard. Neither the noise of my steps nor the bark of a wakeful guard dog disturbs the calm peace of the gardens and courtyards. The few lighted windows seem to be me to be full of peaceful life, of maidenly reveries, or solitary nocturnal thoughts. As one observed how the little churches dream their dreams, unexpected sights often loom up in the empty streets; now the gloomy colonnades of the Apraksin Palace, now the towering bulk of Pashkov House, or the stony shadows of Catherine’s great eagles. (Chayanov; Venediktov)

Each tale in the collection is a gem in its own right, and put together here they produce a most marvellous book; excellently translated and notated by Maguire, with an informative introduction, this is definitely one of my books of the year – I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s ideal reading if you have an interest in Russian literature, in the Gothic genre, in the development of writing under the Soviets, or simply if you love good short stories. A wonderful book, and just the thing to pull me out of my reading slump!

Dr. Muireann Maguire

Dr. Muireann Maguire

Red Spectres is published by Overlook, who have a history of producing Russian translation, and this is a lovely hardback edition too! For those interested in the subject Maguire has also published “Stalin’s Ghosts”, a study of supernatural fiction in early Soviet Russia, which sounds fascinating! Check out Russian Dinosaur for more about translating the stories for Red Spectres.

Shiny New Books goes Live!!

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Great excitement in the book blogging world, as Shiny New Books, the online book recommendation magazine goes live! Make sure you drop in here to have a look!

I’ve popped in briefly and there is an amazing and impressive amount of content – from reviews of new volumes, reprints, fiction and non-fiction, and a fascinating-looking Bookbuzz section with all sorts of literature-related items! Can’t wait to read it all!

I have been lucky enough to be involved, and have reviewed two very different volumes which I adored:

Autobiography-of-a-Corpse

“Autobiography of a Corpse” is the latest selection of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s stories to be collected by NYRB, and it’s a cracker – a wonderful book of strange and thought-provoking fables.

tamara-cover

“Born in Siberia” is a deeply personal memoir of Tamara Astafieva, a woman who’s lived through the Soviet era and into modern Russia, with stories stretching back to the revolution. It’s moving and fascinating and I was very glad to be given the chance to read and review it.

Shiny New Books promises to have a wealth of lovely bookish reading – so make sure you visit and sign up for the newsletter!

Recent Reads: The Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

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“The Letter Killers Club” by SK is the last of his volumes currently available in English and the longest single piece so far published by NYRB or Glas – it’s novella length at just over 100 pages. I confess to approaching this one with great anticipation, but also a little trepidation as the subject is books – or rather, the absence of them!

letter-killers

The blurb for the novella on Amazon reads thus:

Writers are professional killers of conceptions. The logic of the Letter Killers Club, a secret society of “conceivers” who commit nothing to paper on principle, is strict and uncompromising. Every Saturday they meet in a fire-lit room hung with blank black bookshelves to present their “pure and unsubstantiated” conceptions: a rehearsal of Hamlet hijacked by an actor who vanishes with the role; the double life of a medieval merry cleric derailed by a costume change; a machine-run world that imprisons men’s minds while conscripting their bodies; a dead Roman scribe stranded this side of the River Acheron. The overarching scene of this short novel is set in Soviet Moscow, in the ominous 1920s. Known only by pseudonym, like Chesterton’s anarchists in fin-de-siècle London, the Letter Killers are as mistrustful of one another as they are mesmerized by their despotic president. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is at his philosophical and fantastical best in this extended meditation on madness and silence, the word and the soul unbound.

Hyperbole? I don’t think so, although I’m not sure I’m in the best position to do a rational, measured review of this book because I just came out of a bit boggled at the brilliance of the concepts and the writing. This is a book I need to read again in a more considered manner, now that I know what actually happens, in order to really judge it properly. But here goes anyway.

Our unnamed narrator is taken by an acquaintance to attend the Letter Killers Club meeting. The letters of the title are not items of correspondence but the actual building blocks of language itself – the alphabet. We never learn any real names in this book – the club’s attendees are known by nonsense aliases: Das, Tyd, Zez, Hig, Mov and Rar. The narrator’s acquaintance is the President and he has strong ideas about books:

“… if our letterizations stifle one another, if writers prevent each other from writing, they don’t allow readers even to form an idea. The reader hasn’t a chance to have ideas, the right to have them has been usurped by word professionals who are stronger and more experienced this matte: libraries have crushed the reader’s imagination, the professional writings of a small coterie of scribblers have crammed shelves and heads to bursting.”

The domineering president explains that pure stories do not exist as trapped by letters but only as verbal tales, and each week one of the attendees relates a story to the other members. There is a tension in the air during these meetings, as if not all the members approve of the lack of paper with symbols on it – in fact, one member actually has written notes which crackle and give him away, so they are burned. In Soviet Russia, the written word could kill you – so it is no surprise that the members of the Letter Killers Club refuse to commit their titles to paper.

“…no-one searching emptiness has ever managed to find anything.”

The narrator is intrigued by one particular member of the group, Rar, and attempts to talk to him outside the meeting, where Rar reveals the reason they have asked the observer to come along to the meetings. But the group implodes with the unexpected death of one of its members, which brings an end to the gatherings. It is left to the narrator to break the cardinal rule of the Club and commit his experiences to paper – but with what consequences is never revealed.

That’s just a superficial reading – but what of the stories-within-the-story? Well, there are actually five chapters with individual conceptions, and these are all excellent in their own right – tales which could have been expanded or presented as one of SK’s own short stories. The Hamlet story from Rar dips into the idea of the double (a regular theme in Russian literature) and also ponders on the authenticity or not of an actor’s rendition of a famous part – is each one creating a different version of the character? Tyd presents the merry olde cleric story which is actually two stories with similar character names but different plots and features a double of sorts. The centrepiece story is a long, fantastical tale by Das about “Exes” (i.e. external or ex-people), telling of a futuristic world where a scientific experiment has enabled the ruling class to detach people’s brains from the control of their muscles, isolating their thought processes and producing an army of automatons – the ultimate totalitarian state. It’s superbly written, mind-boggling and inventive, and very telling about the desire for control and power. The writing and sweeping imagination displayed in this particular story took my breath away – pages 62 and 63 are in particular wonderful pieces of prose, but too long to quote here. Firstly the madmen are “converted”, then the dissenters and finally everyone not of the ruling elite – a simple allegory of life under Soviet rule? Not quite – this could be any totalitarian state, not just Soviet Russia.

“One cannot force a person to live an alien, manufactured life. Man is a free being. Even madmen have a right to their madness. It is dangerous to entrust functions of will to a machine: we still don’t know what that mechanical will may want.”

Fev’s tale is a weird fable of three characters with a travelling dispute about why God created the mouth. And the final story, from Mov, deals with death and payment of dues, with the various members of the club offering alternate resolutions to the tale. This resonates with the fate of the members of the club and leads the reader on to wonder how much of each conceiver we should see in his story – and indeed how much of SK we should look for hidden away in his work.

So, putting these concepts aside, it’s worth considering what SK is actually trying to do with this novella. The subject of the art of storytelling is one which recurs often in his work (or at least that which is available so far in English!) and he’s featured the idea in at least two other stories I’ve read – “Someone Else’s Theme” and “The Bookmark”. In this novella hunting of themes and telling of stories and is taken to its logical conclusion – no story can be written down. Russia has a strong bardic tradition (as do most old countries) and using the written word to contain and set in stone stories is relatively recent – in fact, it could be argued that by imprisoning a story in a finalised form, a writer is actually killing what in the oral tradition would have been a living, breathing organism, expanded and improved upon and polished as the bard told it over and over again. Each of these tales has a message or moral of its own, but has the narrator damaged this by fixing the stories in a permanent form? SK was very much a theme-catcher himself, a conceiver, and many of his short stories are more like sketches or outlines than traditional stories. It is a form he seems to excel in and even this, notionally a novella, is more like a collection of briefer works. He had an astonishingly fertile mind and it must have caused him some hardship to simply stop writing stories in 1941 (SK had finally had a collection of stories approved for publication, when the German invasion put a halt to this and he never wrote another one).

The Arbat in the 1920s, where SK lived in a tiny room.

The Arbat in the 1920s, where SK lived in a tiny room.

Of course, there is also the aspect of storytelling in the Soviet world, something I’ve touched upon quite a lot recently on this blog, particularly in my comments on Bulgakov. The 1920s and 1930s in particular were a dangerous age to be an artist in Russia, and the real writing of the era was buried, hidden in drawers or sometimes even in minds. There are many recorded cases of writers memorising their work and destroying the paper copy (Akhmatova’s Requiem, for example), which leaves the chilling realization (after reading Das’s story) that if the mind was then separated from the rest of the body by sinister machines (“ether winds”), the stories would be lost forever. SK seems to have shared MB’s mistrust of science, although SK goes into much more depth with his fictional scientific concepts. Many seem to have a basis in real science or philosophy and they are sometimes hard to grasp, so the notes in this volume are very useful (if not essential!) Bulgakov’s attitude toward other writers in the Soviet system (see particularly “The Master and Margarita”) is very scathing. And they both share such superficial features as the housing problem and the ubiquitous appearance of the primus stove!

SK was just as much affected by the inability to publish as was Bulgakov – he described himself: “I am a crossed out person” which could well apply to B – but the work he produced in reaction to this is very different. SK’s stories look inward to the craft of storytelling itself, the hunting down of themes and the oral tradition. The world of dreams appears more than once, but these stories are perhaps more elusive than MB’s. Bulgakov’s fictions are also fantastical and surreal but in a more biting, obviously satirical way, and perhaps wider in range – particularly with “The Master and Margarita” – although I’ve only so far read a fraction of SK’s work so it might be too early to judge. Although there are superficial similarities and influences in these two Kievan writers, in the end there is no point in comparing them – both produce greatly individual works of genius which still speak to us down the decades. So is this SK’s main statement on the place of artists under totalitarian rule? That remains to be seen when more of his work is translated into English. I’ve been very mentally stimulated by the work of SK I’ve read so far, and enjoyed it very much – carry on producing these originals, please, NYRB!

Recent Reads: 7 Stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

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After my recent read of SK’s “Memories of the Future” (review here) I did a bit of digging about on the Interweb and found that his work was first published in English by Glas with their collection “7 Stories”, published in 2006. The stories are also translated by Joanne Turnbull, who is shaping up to be the dedicated translator of SK, in much the same way as Robert Chandler is connected with Platonov’s writings. The introduction is useful and informative (though it isn’t stated who wrote it).

seven-stories-sigizmund-krzhizhanovsky-paperback-cover-art

The seven stories in this volume are:

Quadraturin
In the Pupil *
The Runaway Fingers *
Autobiography of a Corpse
The Unbitten Elbow *
The Bookmark
Yellow Coal *

The asterisked ones are new to me, as the others feature in “Memories…”, and these four are corkers! “In the Pupil” is a strange tale of the narrator’s love for a woman and as he falls for her and she for him, he spots a little man in her eye – a reflected image of himself who seems to have an existence of his own. The narrator becomes fixated upon this little man, always looking to see him when he meets his love, until one day he mentions it to her. She dismisses his comment scornfully, and the little man is seen waving goodbye and walking away. The affair continues unconvincingly until suddenly the little man manages to escape one day and tells his tale to the narrator, of how all the images of all the women’s previous lovers live inside her head, jockeying for position, but with the certainty that the first love will also take priority. The narrator tries to pop the little man back into his eye, with tragic consequences.The story is apparently representative of SK’s views on relations between men and women, as he lived separately from his long-term partner, Anna Bovshek, until his last illness forced him to move in with her.

“For the real love object is constantly changing, and to love you today is to betray the person you were yesterday.” (“In the Pupil”)

“The Runaway Fingers” tells the tale of a pianist’s hand that makes its escape from the owner and runs off into the streets, where it finds that freedom comes at a price. In “The Unbitten Elbow” a citizen who is trying to bite his own elbow becomes a media sensation, spawning philosophical systems, lotteries and political machinations.

“Yellow Coal” is a remarkable story. As R.H. (presumably translator Robert?) Chandler has pointed out in his review of “Memories of the Future” on Amazon.com, this tale “anticipates global warming. It is set in a time when we have run out of coal and oil and the sun is drying up our reserves of water”, which is remarkable when you think when SK was writing. The authorities offer a reward for a solution and one scientist, after stumbling one day from his protective motor car out into the real world of rushing, bustling people, recognises the human emotion of spite as a source of energy which can be exploited. SK goes on to spin an imaginative and fanciful yarn about the rise and fall of this energy source, which eventually self-destructs by lulling humans into a bland, self-satisfied comfortable state where they are no longer spiteful.

SK’s writing is wonderfully inventive and fantastic. These stories are allegorical, obviously – there is no way they can be taken literally but this does not detract from their power when we realise which systems they are parodying. SK stated:

 “I’m not alone. Logic is with me.”

schillinger-190

The world around him was illogical and one of the ways to fight it was with logic and the absurd. It is really not surprising that the Soviet authorities could not deal with them and in fact two of the pieces in this collection (TRF and TUE) are the only two works of SK’s published during his lifetime. Like his fellow Kievan author, Mikhail Bulgakov (who died the same year as SK), Krzhizhanovsky’s brand of surreal writing was a world away from socialist realism and both were well aware that the kind of literature that was allowed in Soviet Russia was basically a dead art form.

“Now nowhere could one find – not for a seven-, eight- or even nine-figure sum –  the old embittered minds, the furious inspirations, the pens sharp as stingers and dripped in bile. Today’s insipid ink, devoid of blood and bile, pure and unfermented, produced nothing but silly scribbles and vague, blot-like thoughts. The culture was dying – in disgrace and silence.”

The unpublishable Russians have had to bide their time and save their work for an era that wants more than just bland, mass-produced pap (although there is plenty of that still out there nowadays). I’m mightily glad that SK’s works survived until the thaw which has allowed them to make their way out into the wider world – I believe there are more volumes to come from NYRB which is excellent news!

Recent Reads: Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

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I have to confess that this book has been one of my most anticipated reads of recent months. I’ve been eyeing it up for ages now, seduced by the rave reviews and the fact it’s a collection of long-lost Soviet satirical stories. I finally cracked and picked up a copy with some Christmas money, and dived in!

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Some quick facts about SK from Wikipedia:

“Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky (11 February [O.S. 30 January] 1887  – 28 December 1950) was a Russian and Soviet short-story writer who described himself as being “known for being unknown”; the bulk of his writings were published posthumously. In 1976, scholar Vadim Perelmuter discovered Krzhizhanovsky’s archive and in 1989 published one of his short stories. As the five volumes of his collected works followed, Krzhizhanovsky emerged from obscurity as a remarkable Soviet writer, who polished his prose to the verge of poetry. His short parables, written with an abundance of poetic detail and wonderful fertility of invention – though occasionally bordering on the whimsical – are sometimes compared to the ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges. Quadraturin (1926), the best known of such phantasmagoric stories, is a Kafkaesque novella in which allegory meets existentialism.”

The fact that SK’s work is only just emerging is remarkable in itself and it’s a little frightening to think that such works have been buried for years under the Soviet machine – as Robert Chandler puts it in his introduction to the excellent anthology “Russian Short Stories From Pushkin to Buida” (which features “Quadraturin”) SK was “writing for the drawer” (as were other writers like Bulgakov). I have in fact read “From Pushkin….” some years ago which means I have read “Quadraturin”! This was a surprise to me, and is, incidentally, is one of the reasons I started this blog – to try to record my feelings about what I read and fix my memories of books more firmly!

However, on to this collection. The book consists of seven short pieces, translated by Joanne Turnbull and with some excellent notes by her:

Quadraturin
The Bookmark
Someone else’s Theme
The Branch Line
Red Snow
the Thirteenth Category of Reason
Memories of the Future

of which the title story is the longest. The writing is individual, unusual and singular, and in some ways reminds me of Platonov with its dream-like, haunting quality. The first story *is* a little Kafka-like, dealing with a scientific invention to expand the inside of someone’s room (in a TARDIS-like way) to solve the housing problem (ah, the eternal Soviet housing problem!) But things go wrong, and the protagonist actually ends up lost in his own room! “The Bookmark” and “Someone Else’s Theme” are very much concerned with the telling of tales. The Soviet demand for only Socialist Realism in fiction was very much on the rise, at the expense of true tale tellers, and it was impossible to get something with a fantastic theme published. The Theme Catcher in the first story endlessly spins tales, with only the slightest stimulation needed from life around him to set him off. It is difficult to see these stories as anything else than the reaction of a spinner of romances to the authorities’ demands. “The Branch Line” and “Red Snow” both feature dream sequences and landscapes, beautifully written and entrancing. “TBL” is particularly wonderful, with a traveller apparently taking the wrong train and ending up in the world of dreams where night and day are inverted, and scary dreams are about to take over the real world (another veiled critique of the Soviet dream, perhaps?). The fantasy sequence is wonderfully written, with all the qualities of the best dreams (and nightmares!). Likewise in “Red Snow”, the protagonist encounters regularly a strange character called Saul Straight, while he is struggling to find food and work in a Russia is always cold and snowy (as in most of these stories). He ends up living through a very scary nightmare where he encounters the Russian people queueing implacably (as they do for everything) – this time, for logic! “The Thirteenth Category of Reason” features a corpse who is late for his own funeral – ’nuff said!

The title story is a masterpiece – it tells the story of Max Shterer, who is obsessed by time from childhood and spends the rest of his life trying to conquer and supersede it. His quest to build a time machine spreads over many years, the first world war, the Russian revolution and civil war, plus the early days of the Soviet bureacracy. There is obviously some influence from Wells’ “The Time Machine” here – SK drops mention of the book into the text, and when Max finally gets to set off, he appears to move through time but not space in the same way as Wells’ hero. But there is a political subtext here not present in a straight sci-fi story – and what Schterer sees in the Soviet future is deemed too dangerous to let out (we do not even hear ourselves what it is) and after he is visited by a mysterious personage (Stalin???), he and his tale vanish.

 

Sigizmund_KrzhizhanovskyRunning through these tales is a sense of suspension of real life, which presumably reflects how SK (and many others) felt during the revolution which turned a world upside down, shook it a lot, and set it down in a very different configuration. There are also comments on the effects of Soviet bureaucracy, like this one, which are beautifully written:

“Haven’t you noticed how in the last few years our life has been permeated by non-existence? Little by little on the sly. We’re still  immured in our old space, like the stumps in a felled forest. But our lives have long since been stacked in piles, and not for us but for others. This wristwatch with its pulsating minute hand is still mine, but time is not, it belongs to someone else who will not let you or me into a single one of its seconds. What is death, after all? A special case of hopelessness.” (Red Snow)

These are amazing stories from an amazing writer, and I am just so glad that he was rescued from obscurity. I can’t wait to read “The Letter Killers Club”, and I hope that more of his work will appear in English translation. I do agree with Robert Chandler when he says: “It is now clear that Krzhizhanovsky is one of the greatest Russian writers of the last century.”

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