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About the author
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 (NYRB Classics), short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award.
Caryl Emerson is the A. Watson Armour III University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University.
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 your run-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 bookshelves where 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 merry medieval 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 in an 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 the purely conceptual—or, for that matter, letters—may be.
New York Review Books
; December 2011
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Title: The Letter Killers Club
Author: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky; Caryl Emerson
In the press
“It is now clear that Krzhizhanovsky is one of the greatest Russian writers of the last century.”
—Robert Chandler, The Financial Times
“Krzhizhanovsky wanted to perform imaginary experiments with the nature of time and space. Outside, in the streets, the Communist state was busy performing such experiments for real. In response, Krzhizhanovsky’s prose has a recklessly unstable tone in which delighted examination of impossible worlds can slip into ferocious political sarcasm. . . . It is a method for investigating how much unreality reality can bear.”
—Adam Thirlwell, The New York Review of Books
“A Russian writer whose morbidly satiric imagination forms the
wild (missing) link between the futuristic dream tales of Edgar
Allan Poe and the postwar scientific nightmares of Stanislaw
Lem. . . an impish master of the fatalistically fantastic.”
—Bill Marx, The World