Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

At the beginning of the year I came across an online quiz on Russian literature and I fared pretty well with it which made me rather pleased with myself. Although I read a good deal of Russian literature in my younger days, I've not read as much in the last decade or so. I decided I needed to remedy that.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky has been on my to-read list. Unlike the big name Russian guys (Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Gogol, etc.) and even some of the not as recognized fellows (Turgenev, Lermontov, etc.), Krzhizhanovsky is probably off of the radar of most folks with good reason. Not because he's terrible (because he's awesome) but because his writings were buried in archives for over half a century.

Krzhizhanovsky's writings were cutting edge for his era (1920's) and were very critical of the social and political state of Russia. It isn't that his writings were censored by the government or anything, they just weren't considered publishable at the time, as much avant garde works of art aren't appreciated by the folks in the era they are created.

Memories of the Future is a collection of six short stories and a novella, the latter for which the book is named. The stories are really interesting and unusual. Quadraturin is about a magic potion that increases the size of space, particularly important because living space is allotted by the government and is less than a hundred square feet per person. Someone Else's Theme involved a seller of philosophical systems. The title story involves a man who is trying to build a time machine but is continually stymied by the effects of time. The Branch Line takes a man who boards the wrong train and is transported into a nightmarish world.

The stories were great. Complex despite being short. There was a slight darkness to all of them but there was a good amount of wit in the stories, too. Having a bit of understanding of Russia in that time might be helpful to appreciating the stories, but I don't think is necessary. This is my favorite book of 2012, at least until my next review when this drops to the second spot.

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