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The Letter Killers Clubby Caryl Emerson
Synopses & Reviews
The Letter Killers Club is a secret society of self-described conceivers who, to preserve the purity of their conceptions, will commit nothing to paper. (What, after all, is yourrun-of-the-mill scribbler of stories if not an accomplished corruptor of conceptions?) The logic of the club is strict and uncompromising. Every Saturday, members meet in a firelit room filled with empty black bookshelveswhere they strive to top one another by developing ever unlikelier, ever more perfect conceptions: a rehearsal of Hamlet hijacked by an actor who vanishes with the role; the double life of a merrymedieval cleric derailed by a costume change; a machine-run world that imprisons men's minds while conscripting their bodies; a dead Roman scribe stranded this side of the River Acheron. But in this book set inan ominous Soviet Moscow of the 1920s, the members of the club are strangely mistrustful of one another, while all are under the spell of its despotic President, and there is no telling, in the end, just how lethal thepurely conceptual--or, for that matter, letters--may be.
Writers are professional killers of conceptions. The logic of the Letter Killers Club, a secret society of “conceivers” who commit nothing to paper on principle, is strict and uncompromising. Every Saturday they meet in a fire-lit room hung with blank black bookshelves to present their “pure and unsubstantiated” conceptions: a rehearsal of Hamlet hijacked by an actor who vanishes with the role; the double life of a medieval merry cleric derailed by a costume change; a machine-run world that imprisons men’s minds while conscripting their bodies; a dead Roman scribe stranded this side of the River Acheron. The overarching scene of this short novel is set in Soviet Moscow, in the ominous 1920s. Known only by pseudonym, like Chesterton’s anarchists in fin-de-sicle London, the Letter Killers are as mistrustful of one another as they are mesmerized by their despotic president. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is at his philosophical and fantastical best in this extended meditation on madness and silence, the word and the soul unbound.
About the Author
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950) studied law and classical philology at Kiev University. His philosophical and satirical stories with fantastical plots 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. His collection of stories, Memories of the Future, is available from NYRB Classics.
Caryl Emerson is A. Watson Armour III Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University.
Joanne Turnbull has translated a number of books from Russian, including Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future, which was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award (available as a NYRB Classic).
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