This is a kind of paranoiac nightmare collections of Soviet fables from the 1920s written in Russian and published in the early days of the country. Recently, when I read the Nabokov uncollected nonfiction collection I was pleased to find a very grumpy and critical Nabokov being asked to review a handful of pro-Party Communist literature from the 1920s (and maybe 1930s I forget) and he hated it. The plots and examples he showed unveiled a truly disgusting, servile, craven set of literature. Imagine pro-Trump fiction.
This is different. Early Soviet days (like early Chinese Revolution days) is a reminder that the country fell in chunks, not all at once and so the resulting dozen or so years was a nightmarish kind of time. Krzhizhavoksy’s fiction tries to narrate that nightmare in these tales. It’s not that different from the novels that the Strugatsky brothers would get around to writing in the decades to come. It’s a weird paranoid kaleidoscope of stories, fractured languages, secret texts, almost Kafka-esque moments — but where Kafka has the supposed structures of a functioning society that he’s lampooning and satirizing, this set is looking at chaos and trying to make sense of it. I can’t say that it quite spoke to me in any kind of convincing or recognizable way. Certainly translation plays a part in all this, as does the experimental aspect of the stories. Some of them I did really like, but I often found myself drifting in what felt not quite opaque text, but text that lacked clear anchors for me.