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Memories of the Future (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky , Joanne Turnbull
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Nov 2009 New York Review Books Classics
A man lives in a tiny apartment, engulfed in the noise of his neighbors’ lives, squeezed in among his few possessions, hardly able to move. A mysterious figure turns up at his door, offering a tube of a substance that will, he assures our hero, allow him to enlarge–“biggerize”–his living space. “Why not?”–but clumsily he spills the stuff on the floor. When he wakes the next morning his apartment has begun to grow exponentially, and with it his troubles. What if people find out? He’ll lose his apartment. He must keep everyone at bay, stay to himself. Meanwhile his furniture drifts into the distance. He is lost in the infinitely expanding space of his own loneliness.

Written in Soviet Moscow in the 1920s--but deemed too subversive even to show to a publisher--the seven tales presented here attest to Krzhizhanovsky's boundless imagination, black humor and breathtaking irony: a man loses his way in the vast black waste of his own small room; the Eiffel Tower runs amok; a kind soul dreams of selling "everything you need for suicide"; an absent-minded passenger boards the wrong train, winding up in a place where night is day, nightmares are the reality, and the backs of all facts have been broken; a man out looking for work comes across a line for logic but doesn't join it as there's no guarantee the logic will last; a sociable corpse misses his own funeral; an inventor gets a glimpse of the far-from-radiant communist future... Like Poe, Krzhizhanovsky takes us to the edge of the abyss and forces us to look into it. "I am interested," he said, "not in the arithmetic, but in the algebra of life."

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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (26 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173190
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.3 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 376,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


For anyone enthralled by the satirical avant-garde that briefly shone on the fringes of Soviet culture in the 1920s, here's a revelation. (Independent)

A worthy presentation of a writer who deserves discovery by an English-speaking audience. (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887—1950) was an ethnically Polish Ukrainian-born short-story writer whose work was largely unpublished, though he was active among Moscow’s literati in the 1920s. He died in Moscow but his burial site is unknown.

Joanne Turnbull has translated a number of books from Russian, including Andrei Sinyavsky’s Soviet Civilization and Ivan the Fool, Asar Eppel’s The Grassy Street, and Andrei Sergeyev’s Stamp Album. She lives in Moscow.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More please 23 July 2013
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky never managed to get a book published in the Soviet Union in his lifetime (1887 - 1950). It was not until 1989 that his work started to be published, now stretching to five volumes in Russian. So it was with delight that I discovered this translation of probably his best known short story and six other short works in 'Memories of the Future', published by the New York Review of Books and translated by Moscow-based Joanne Turnbull.

What a gem this book has turned out to be. After reading as much of Bulgakov, Kharms and Grossman as I have been able to get hold of, Krzhizhanovsky has to be included with them. Had more of his work been published during his lifetime with the encouragement this would have engendered then I personally think another Russian name would be added to the canon of European masters-who-changed-our-perceptions-of-literature. Too strong? Get the book and read for yourself.

Krzhizhanovsky's background appears to be very similar to another Polish Ukrainian Russian - the composer Karol Szymanowski. The composer turned to Poland whilst the writer turned to Moscow - one to become grumpier and fated to be hailed as the new Messiah for the rise of a post-Chopin Polish music, and the other to all but vanish into obscurity despite his incredibly well-read and intellectual background in both Philosophy and all the Arts.

As I lived very close to where Krzhizhanovsky used to live on old Arbat I feel akin in a way and also appalled that I did not know this before leaving for Mayakovskaya. Every story within this book has at its kernel a gem of an idea, and every story has at least one section that you want to underscore, highlight and write down for reference. They tend to feel like they have a 'science-fiction'-like (hawk...
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, but not quite there 15 Dec 2009
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I found this book a bit of a disappointment, wanting more and feeling slightly let down. The stories are Surrealist and the intellectual paradigm in which they are made seems to be an analysis of the times in which they were written, i.e the oppression of the Soviet Union. The first story is a good example. A man coats his bedroom in a special paint, and over weeks sees the room enlarge until it has virtually become a wilderness in which he finds himself quite lost. The writing is at times beautiful and there is a questioning and philosophising that at times promises to open up the book into a wonderful dialogue with the reader, but Krzhizhanovsky somehow keeps forgetting the reader, disappearing into tedious and not really relevant monologues that are a persistent feature of the stories presented.
The language is somehow heavy and makes onerous reading at times without always being rich in content. Allegory is out, and if surrealism is in, it is at times quite baffling!
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Arrived in time and in good condition

Contentwise a four star. Some pieces are of an outstanding content and style, providing an in-depth and highly original view of the Soviet society under NEP. At the same level as Bulgakov's best, beating other, similar writers from the same period like Sologub, Samjatin and Ehrenburg, However occassionally Krzhizhanovsky gets caught in his own excellence as a spinner of tales and gets somewhat longwinding and convoluted.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A startling rediscovery 9 Nov 2009
By R. H. Chandler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887--1950) used to say that he was `known for being unknown'. For the main part, Soviet editors rejected his work; often they dismissed it as `untimely' or `not contemporary', by which they meant: `This is not what we need during our new socialist epoch.' Curiously, one of the most startling qualities of his stories is the directness with which they address our twenty-first century concerns. It is as if the Soviet editors were right; Krzhizhanovsky now seems more our contemporary than theirs.
One story, `Yellow Coal' (published not in this volume but in the earlier SEVEN STORIES), 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. A scientist suggests harnessing the energy of human spite: 'On the long keyboard of feelings, you see, the black keys of spite have their own distinct, sharply differentiated tone.' Marriage, of course, is a good potential source of this energy: 'coldness and, wherever possible, repugnance multiplied by proximity would produce high-voltage spite...' But there are other sources: 'Mills could make do with workers' hatred alone; the workers themselves were no longer needed. Factories and mills began laying huge numbers of people off, keeping only skeleton crews to man the spite collectors.' In the end, however, it appears that even the seemingly infinite energy of spite can grant humanity only a brief respite.
The pun on `spite' and `respite' is mine, but it is, I believe, in Krzhizhanovsky's spirit. He follows the play of thought and words wherever they take him. In his own words, `A thinker is not someone who thinks loyally, but someone who is loyal to his thoughts'. He also wrote, `I am not alone. Logic is with me'. This brings us to one of the finest stories, `Red Snow' (1929), the Russian text of which was discovered only a few years ago. In it a man is wandering around Moscow in search of work. Eventually he joins a line of people waiting on the street. They are hoping to obtain some logic, but they are afraid it will run out before they reach the front of the line...
Another story, `Quadraturin', takes as its starting point the shortage of living space in 1920s Moscow. The narrator, like Krzhizhanovsky himself, lives in what is little more than a cupboard. A mysterious stranger brings him a tube containing `an agent for biggerizing rooms: Quadraturin'. The narrator smears this substance around the walls - and from that moment they never stop moving apart. Many writers have described the boundlessness of the steppe; many have described the suffocating quality of a Soviet communal apartment. No one else has evoked both agoraphobia and claustrophobia in a single image. I had thought I understood this story well, but a friend has just written to me, `The enlarged room is a subtle metaphor for an inner revolution. The protagonist is an inverse image of Kafka's man who turns into a cockroach. His difficulty in dealing with the world derive from the magnification of his inner world, not its shrinkage.' This startled me; I had never read the story this way. Krzhizhanovsky's work, however, is subtle enough to bear many interpretations, and I am sure he will continue to startle me.
Krzhizhanovsky's work is remarkable both for its brilliance and for its breadth. The complete works - now being published in both Russian and French - amount to around 3000 pages. As well as both long and short stories, he wrote travel sketches, plays, opera librettos and essays about literature and the theatre. In the 1920s, when Meyerhold, Vakhtangov and other great directors were at the height of their fame, he criticized them for arrogating dictatorial powers; he argued that slave labour is never productive and that it is therefore a mistake to turn actors into slaves. He also wrote that the Revolution had turned the entire country into a theatre - one where improvisation was forbidden and only canonical texts could be performed.
The translator, Joanne Turnbull, conveys Krzhizhanovsky's intellectual vitality. She provides neat equivalents for the puns and neologisms, and her language is idomatically and rhythmically alive. One story begins with terse onomotopeia: 'The rail joints clacketed, rapping out the staccato of the route.' 'Red Snow' begins still more arrestingly: ' Resignation to one's fate takes practice. Like any art. Or so Citizen Shushashin maintains. He begins every day - after putting on his shoes and washing his face, before throwing on his jacket - with an exercise. Again, the expression is his. This exercise works like this: he walks over to the wall, puts his back up against it and stands there in an attitude of utter resignation. For a minute or two. And that's all. The exercise is over. He can begin to live.'
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a strange and wonderful talent reclaimed 16 Feb 2012
By jafrank - Published on Amazon.com
These stories are wonderful. Krzhizhanovsky has a deft way of blending phantasmagoria with prescient observations about the convoluted shape of life in 1920's Moscow, with all of it's crowding and daily upheavals. He spins out dark little dream worlds with eerie precision, 'Quadraturin,' 'The Branch Line' and the title piece are each perfect ruminations on space, dreams, and time. I hope they bring more of his stuff out in English in the future. Not only does he antedate Borges and Cortazar (who are the closest comparisons I can think of) with his weird, Russian Avante-Gardishness, but he might also secretly be responsible for the giant monster movie. Rampaging Eiffel Tower, folks. That's all I'll say
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The reverse engineers of human souls 27 May 2012
By S. Smith-Peter - Published on Amazon.com
In these stories, things cast shadows, and not vice versa. Krzhizhanovsky (henceforth to be called K.) provides a series of tales that are dark, disturbing but still with a tinge of humor.

In one, a product allows for the continuing expansion of a once-tiny Moscow apartment. In another, an author creates a manifesto against Symps (sympathetics, i.e. members of the intelligentsia) and is terrified to be called a Symp himself.

This leads into the main theme of the stories, written in the late 1920s and until 1930, which is the impending destruction of the Russian intelligentsia. K. was a man of vision and was able to foresee Stalin's actions against the intelligentsia, realized in the 1930s. A sense of foreboding and doom is palpable throughout. In spite of this, the stories are very readable and worth reading.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable and unique insider's view into a closed society 25 Jan 2010
By G. Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
This collection of seven loosely interconnected short stories, by turns whimsical and menacing, examines Soviet Moscow in the 1920s. In these stories Krzhizhanovsky primarily focuses on the lives of displaced intellectuals--those who, after World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917, are left with little to do but wander the city's streets wondering what happened to their settled lives of respectability. One of Krzhizhanovsky's protagonists describes Soviet Russia, and particularly Moscow, as a "country of nonexistences," and it is these nonexistences, left without a place or function in society, that populate Krzhizhanovsky's stories. While often representing an isolated point of view, Krzhizhanovsky's stories contain enough dark comedy and signs of hope to mitigate their overall bleakness.

In a self-described style of "experimental realism," Krzhizhanovsky mixes gritty details (dark rooms in concrete block buildings, frozen boulevard benches) with fantastical elements, including several extended dream sequences. In one story, the Eiffel Tower uproots itself and heads towards the revolution in the East, laying waste to everything in its path. In another, a sociable corpse manages to miss his funeral while trying to experience one more day of life. In the last story of the collection (Memories of the Future), Max Scherter is a man obsessed with the concept of time. He works to build a time machine only to be repeatedly interrupted by war and revolution. Despite the obstacles Max faces, his story is a hopeful one of the perseverance of a noble idea over mankind's tragedies.

Krzhizhanovsky died in 1950 before any of his stories were published. Now, for the first time, these seven stories are available to an English audience thanks to Joanne Turnbull's translation and the New York Review of Books. Memories of the Future, although sometimes confusing in its wild departures from reality, gives us a valuable and unique insider's view into a closed society.
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like Kafka, Queneau, Borges... 10 Nov 2012
By ravennamoon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had surreal dreams the night after I read Krzhizhanovsky's story "Quadraturin" ~ the first story in this collection.
I loved "The Bookmark" with the image of the Eiffel Tower getting bored and taking a stroll! Each story is a fascinating, orignal tale~ very brave messages and haunting images. "...they were always having to quickly forget one past and learn
another, while memorizing the present according to the latest editions of the papers." A courageous Russian writer!
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