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Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (Russian Literature (Dalkey Archive)) (Russian Literature Series) Paperback – 1 Nov 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; New Ed edition (1 Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564783111
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564783110
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 17.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"... a work of gossip, allusion and esoteric reference, with devices--some typographical--which Shklovsky borrowed from Sterne, whom he much admired. "--John Bayley, Listener

About the Author

Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky was a Russian and Soviet critic, writer, and pamphleteer.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ADAM on 11 Aug 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think its a really brilliant idea to try and construct a narrative out of letters sent between two lovers, but not lovers, because he loved her but she obviously didnt love him, or maybe in a way that should be reversed, because while he appears to pour his heart out he does it so forcefully that his professed honesty may not be all it appears to be.

The story, roughly, is about Alya and this guy who we know to be Viktor Shklovsky, but isnt specifically named. Its part real life, as in the story is based on Shklovsky's real life letters between himself and Elsa Troilet, and apparently some of the best letters were exact copies of the ones they'd written each other.

Alya, is made out to be indifferent the writer's advances, his flattery, his revelations, and very early on she instructs him not to write about love;

"Don't write me only about your love. Don't make wild scenes on the telephone. Don't rant and rave. You're managing to poison my days. I need freedom - I refuse to account for my actions to anyone."

While Alya may not be the most sympathetic of characters, she does appear to be the more genuine, despite the authors attempt at the opposite. It reminds me Albert Camus' The Outsider, in that Alya's honesty is very brutal, but from an objective point of view she has been put into a difficult position, hounded by letters, and can only stop these advances by being blunt.

Of course its not all one-sided, but this is my attempt at balancing out the biased storytelling, which kind of tries to paint the author as a downtrodden lover, only trying to do the right thing and reveal his undying love..

I love this book..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
moving and witty 26 Sep 2005
By E. Greber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Viktor Shklovsky's epistolary novel "Zoo," written and published in Berlin 1922-1923, is one of the most remarkable and ingenuous epistolary novels ever written, for the very reason that it manages a cross-over between theory and literature as well as between fiction and life. It is rare in its combination of deep emotion and sharp reflection: a moving evocation of the pain of exile and unrequited love and, at the same time, witty metaliterary play. "Zoo" reshapes the traditional epistolary novel in metafictional style and revitalizes it by blurring the borders between documentary and poetic epistolarity. This can be taken quite literal in view of the textual genesis: the novel is said to mix fictional letters with real ones, letters that were or might have been exchanged (in a rather one-sided correspondence) between the young critic and the lady he courted, between the novelistic `I' and his beloved Alya, alias Viktor Shklovsky and Elsa Triolet (a Russian emigrant like himself and a future French writer). Shklovsky composed the little book in Berlin after fleeing from the Soviet Union, and it is a document of his own intermediary existence in the limbo of exile as well as a kind of ethnography of `Russian Berlin'. But to take the work simply from the autobiographical side would mean to under-estimate its theoretical drive. Not only does it thematize Formalist ideas (as could be expected in a text whose protagonist is a theorist), but it is constructed on such principles, or more precisely: it is performing them.

Shklovsky's "Zoo" harks back to Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" and German Romanticism and it anticipates postmodern ideas of a playful merging of criticism and fiction. Within the generic development of the epistolary novel, "Zoo" is the hallmark of modernity. As is stated in a major book on the genre, "Zoo effects a perceptible displacement on the genre; after 1923, it will never again be quite the same." (L. Kauffman)

The established view of Shklovsky's novel as an "attempt to put into practice the principles to which he adhered as a critic" (V. Erlich) repeats the division between the discourses and reconfirms the dubitable hierarchy of theory over literature. A more adequate view is gained by the concept of hybridity, that is, an equal or even indistinguish-able interaction between both poles. Object level and meta level are dissolved into one literary whole. The `I' is acting as editor and correspondent, as critic and writer and lover, and he tries to seduce not only his lady but other readers, including the state and party leaders who forced him out of Russia and who, after 'receiving' the novel's last letter, allowed him to return home (intra- and extratextual readers). With regard to the notion of a `dialogue' between theory and literature, it is highly significant that Shklovsky chose the dialogic genre of the epistolary novel for his critifictional enterprise.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
purely of historical value? 5 Aug 2013
By Witold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I think this epistolary novel has great historical value but it is not a masterpiece of literature in any way. It is rather disjointed and bumpy. It certainly could be funny and entertaining to read for someone who lived at or around that time but for today's reader the book is just a rather puzzling witness to a very complex era of European history. It has certainly great value to the history and the theory of the development of Russian/Soviet literature.
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