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the Complete Review
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Pushkin House

Andrei Bitov

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Title: Pushkin House
Author: Andrei Bitov
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978 (Eng.:1987)
Length: 371 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Pushkin House - US
Pushkin House - UK
La Maison Pouchkine - France
Das Puschkinhaus - Deutschland
  • Translated by Susan Brownsberger

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a complex and very literary (and very Russian) novel which will not appeal to everyone

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 3/1/1988 Frank Kermode

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pushkin House, a novel full of fiery intelligence, is, it must be said, a work of formidable complexity, and readers should be warned that first time round they are in for a rough ride." - Frank Kermode, The NY Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Andrei Bitov's complex literary novel is very much a work about writing. An homage to Russian literature (pre-Revolutionary literature), Bitov twists the classical tradition in his very modern creation, using it to portray and comment on the role of the individual in Soviet society (showing a fascinating set of contrasts and parallels). Allusive, firmly grounding itself in the great Russian authors and texts of the nineteenth century (quoting amply, even titling each of the three main sections of the book after a classic work), Bitov also manages to paint a portrait of life in the Soviet society of the 1950's and 60's. The author himself intrudes into the text (at least as an authorial voice), commenting on the happenings, and even berating the reader.
       The novel is as much commentary as narrative, Bitov's bitter and darkly humorous view of this world he inhabits and creates an engaging part of the novel. The novel as a whole is, however, very literary and those not familiar with Russian literary history may feel completely at sea for large stretches (despite Susan Brownsberger's useful notes). Bitov's writing is expansive and inclusive, but it falls back on itself too readily. The excursions into the world remain visits and are not the center of the novel.
       The book opens with a death, that of the central character, Lyova Odoevtsev, found the day after the anniversary of the Russian Revolution in the famous Pushkin House, a literary institute cum museum in Leningrad. Immediately, Bitov as author intrudes in the text, explaining his method, trying to pull the reader into a more active role in the appreciation of the novel. Lyova's life is then more conventionally recounted, from his youth to his fateful death, with Bitov lingering at length on certain episodes and characters and passing over much else.
       It is a meandering work, though Bitov's diverse forays are often very enjoyable indeed. Several characters are especially well fleshed out, including Lyova's Uncle Dickens, the strong figure of his grandfather, and his three loves (one of whom is not at all fleshed out, but that works equally well). Lyova's love, Faina, becomes an important presence as well.
       Lyova is a somewhat lost soul. He studies literature, he writes a paper that is not published but earns him a reputation, he winds up, fatefully, at Pushkin House. The Russian masters -- Pushkin, especially -- are inescapable and lead much of the text. Bitov finally kills Lyova off -- and then resurrects him, in a manner of speaking. Several times Bitov threatens: "The novel is finished", but he refuses to allow such a predictable end.
       Each section comes with a chapter entitled "Version and Variant", allowing for different paths taken. Three chapters are subtitled Epilogue, and an Appendix is also added, as Bitov twists the literary games dry. It is a fun book, playful and dark. It is also heavy and very Russian.
       We do recommend it, quite highly, but with the warning that readers should know what they are getting themselves into.

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Pushkin House: Reviews: Andrei Bitov: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Andrei Bitov was born in Leningrad in 1937.

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