“Playful and erudite, sprinkled with philosophy and politics, funny in places and melancholy in others, this novella, like most of Krzhizhanovsky’s work, remained unpublished during his lifetime; how lucky that we can read it now.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Be sure to grab a new copy of this month’s reading group selection: The Return of Münchausen by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
The Book Beat reading group will meet Wednesday, March 28, 2018 @ 7:00PM at Goldfish Tea Cafe, located at 117 W. Fourth Street in Downtown Royal Oak. All are welcome.
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A time-traveling European folk hero becomes a fabulist diplomat in Krzhizhanovsky’s clever, fantastical addition to the Baron Münchausen myth. Falling from “a gigantic clockface of the centuries” into the 1920s, Münchausen travels from Berlin to London, taking up residence in Mad Bean Cottage and conquering high society with his extraordinary tales; soon Münchausen’s “aphorisms… are on lecterns in both houses of Parliament.” Apparently sent on a mission to the Soviet Union, the Baron returns with his wildest account yet. He recounts that because “in that ruined country, the position of the hardworking highwayman is extremely troublesome and not to be envied,” Münchausen eases the criminals’ lot by teaching them to blow out the Moon as if it were a candle; in Moscow, Münchausen’s reports of European capitals, Churchill, Chaplin, and “rivers of automobiles” literally melt a defunct countess. Münchausen’s ardent European reception, however, cannot help him with his ultimate challenge—facing a country that may be more darkly fanciful than his tales. Krzhizhanovsky, largely unpublished in the U.S.S.R. during his lifetime, draws both on Münchausen’s traditional feats and on cultural lore from Augustine, Diderot, and others. By sending his wily hero into the heart of Bolshevism, he insists that “sooner or later the nightingale will outwarble the factory whistle.” Readers will discover in this remarkable novel a very serious satire, an honest fable, and a bit of genius.
Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky, the Ukrainian-born son of Polish emigrants, studied law and classical philology at Kiev University. After graduation and two summers spent exploring Europe, he was obliged to clerk for an attorney. A sinecure, the job allowed him to devote most of his time to literature and his own writing. In 1920, he began lecturing in Kiev on theater and music. The lectures continued in Moscow, where he moved in 1922, by then well known in literary circles. Lodged in a cell-like room on the Arbat, Krzhizhanovsky wrote steadily for close to two decades. His philosophical and phantasmagorical fictions ignored injunctions to portray the Soviet state in a positive light. Three separate efforts to print collections were quashed by the censors, a fourth by World War II. Not until 1989 could his work begin to be published. 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.”