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The Faculty of Useless Knowledge Paperback – 3 Apr 1997

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"There are moments in The Faculty of Useless Knowledge, amid the flashbacks and shifting points of view, when a kind of magic begins to tug at the surface" (The New York Times Book Review)

"Drawing from personal experiences during his own sentencing and exile, Dombrovsky writes passionately and often humorously about the terrifying Soviet judicial system. Fear and chaos pervaded the lives of Russians in 1937, the height of Stalin's purges. During this time, Zybin, an archeologist in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, is wrongly accused of a crime and then forced through the labyrinthine prison system, in which the bureaucratic investigations are even more grueling than the physical punishment he endures. Meanwhile, all those who know him, including his young assistant, Kornilov (many of these characters were introduced in Dombrovsky's The Keeper of Antiquities, his only other novel translated into English), are subjected to long interrogations in which every word can be twisted to incriminate Zybin or even themselves. Theological arguments about justice weave their way throughout the novel, and, as in Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita, these discussions focus primarily on the person most active during Christ's trial?Pontius Pilate. Dombrovsky argues that Pilate was a weak governor, a mere bureaucrat who constantly feared for his position. The interrogators and prosecutors of the novel are allegorical Pilates. The young and frightened Kornilov breaks down and betrays Zybin, who, unlike Christ, is not willing to acquiesce to the system as it stands. Wonderfully written and darkly witty, Dombrovsky's novel, first published in Russia in 1978, draws us into the surreal world of Stalin's Soviet Union." (Publishers Weekly)

"An imposing fictional portrayal of the Stalinist terror, set in 1937 in the eastern Russian republic of Kazakhstan (on the Chinese border) and featuring themes and characters from Dombrovsky's earlier novel, The Keeper of Antiquities (1969)... Thickly textured, eloquently argued, as informative as it is dramatic: a superb novel that brings to our attention an important near-contemporary (Dombrovsky died in 1978) whose books belong on the same shelf with those of Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn" (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A searing novel about the Stalinist terror that stands alongside Solzhenitsyn and Bulgakov, from a writer who himself spent eighteen years in the camps of Siberia --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Kafka as told by Dostoevsky 20 May 1998
By Christopher Hartwell ( - Published on
Format: Paperback
An unbelievable work that makes up in prose what it lacks in originality. While the plot line is clearly delineated from the beginning, Dombrovsky's poetic writing and clever juxtaposition make this one of my top novels of all time. It's got the same futility of Kafka written in the style of The Brothers Karamazov. If you haven't read any historical literature, or do not know much about the Great Terror, this is the novel to read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Bulgakov, Dombrovsky, and Bitov 26 Aug. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
No, the beautiful marriage of the philosophical with the literary characterized by the Russian novel in such giants as Dostoevsky and Gogol didn't disappear in the twentieth century, it was only repressed. This important book stands to finally take its place alongside other contemporary Soviet writers in a deep, thought provoking proof that art really does conquer all. Lovers of profound literature need not fear since, as Bulgakov pointed out, Manuscripts Never Burn. But passion and the human spirit always will in the face of all tyranny, and nothing illustrates this more fully and with such beautiful defiance as The Faculty Of Useless Knowledge.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant! : In the Tradition of Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn 19 May 2001
By jane k. johnson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Do not be put off by the length-530 pages; it is as exciting from the first chapter to the last- a book that is hard to put down.... This book contains actual events from the author's life and many of the people are real. Yet it is more; the battle between soviet expediency and humanistic values, the nature of justice, a romantic tale (Dombrovsky marries the real Klara), a re-telling of Christ's passion, a description of the terror and a ripping good detective thriller.
Two Stars 15 Jun. 2015
By Charles M. - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
worth the effort 1 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
The narrative tends to shift unexpectedly to flashbacks, but it is a deep look into an era of repression and destruction of integrity. Quintessential reading for all of us.
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