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Autobiography of a Corpseby Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Synopses & Reviews
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950), 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.”
Joanne Turnbull’s translations from Russian in collaboration with Nikolai Formozov include Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future and The Letter Killers Club (both NYRB Classics).
Adam Thirlwell is the author of two novels, Politics and The Escape; a novella, Kapow!; an essay-book, The Delighted States, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; and a compendium of translations edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
"Sly, vibrant, and often very funny, Krzhizhanovsky's stories, originally written in the 1920s and '30s (though virtually unpublished during the author's lifetime), are a joy. In 'In the Pupil,' the narrator's reflection in his lover's eye leads to all kinds of drama. 'Postmark: Moscow' consists of 13 letters to a friend and gives a finely rendered sense of place and time: 'Moscow is a mishmash of utterly unrelated (logically and optically) building ensembles...' In 'The Collector of Cracks,' a fairy tale leads to musings of great importance. The title story records a personal history related to a room. In 'Yellow Coal,' human spite is harnessed as an energy source. 'The Runaway Fingers' provides both a lesson in the etiquette of proper inquiry and an investigation of artistry. The best of the many exceedingly fine stories here is 'The Unbitten Elbow,' in which a man's life's goal of trying to bite his own elbow leads to scarcely imagined changes in society. Full of precise detail, this book will instruct, delight, and then leave the reader pondering long after the reading is finished." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An NYRB Classics Original
The stakes are wildly high in Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s fantastic and blackly comic philosophical fables, which abound in nested narratives and wild paradoxes. This new collection of eleven mind-bending and spellbinding tales includes some of Krzhizhanovsky’s most dazzling conceits: a provincial journalist who moves to Moscow finds his existence consumed by the autobiography of his room’s previous occupant; the fingers of a celebrated pianist’s right hand run away to spend a night alone on the city streets; a man’s lifelong quest to bite his own elbow inspires both a hugely popular circus act and a new refutation of Kant. Ordinary reality cracks open before our eyes in the pages of Autobiography of a Corpse, and the extraordinary spills out.
Virtually unpublished during his lifetime, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s fantastic and blackly comic philosophical fables have since 1989 earned him a reputation as one of the greatest Russian writers of the twentieth century. Included in this collection of eleven newly translated tales are some of his strangest and most brilliant conceits: a provincial journalist who moves to Moscow finds his existence consumed by the autobiography of his room’s previous occupant, a suicide who vacated his hundred square feet in exchange for his successor’s consideration of his manuscript; the fingers of a celebrated pianist’s right hand run away to spend an abrasive night alone on the city streets; a man’s lifelong quest to bite his own elbow inspires both a wildly popular circus act and a new refutation of Kant; a desperate energy crisis is resolved through the systematic exploitation of the one substance to reliably increase along with the dysfunctions of modern life: bile, or “yellow coal.” Abounding in nested narratives, wild paradox, and improbably high stakes—what would you do if a Stygian toad landed on your pillow one night and asked for help in saving the world by building a bridge to death?—the unlikely stories in Autobiography of a Corpse ask you to take a second look at the cracks in everyday reality.
About the Author
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950) studied law and classical philology at Kiev University. In his philosophical and satirical stories with fantastical plots, he ignored official injunctions to portray the new Soviet state in a positive light, and three separate efforts to print different collections were quashed by the censors, a fourth by World War II. Not until 1989 could these surreal fictions begin to be published. Both his story collection, Memories of the Future, and his novel, The Letter Killers Club, are available from NYRB Classics.
Adam Thirlwell is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape, an essay on novels, The Delighted States, and most recently the experimental book with folding pages, Kapow!. He lives in London.
Joanne Turnbull has translated a number of books from Russian, including Krzhizhanovsky’s The Letter Killers Club and Memories of the Future (short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award), both available from NYRB Classics.
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