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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Memories of the Future

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

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To purchase Memories of the Future

Title: Memories of the Future
Author: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2009)
Length: 220 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Memories of the Future - US
Memories of the Future - UK
Memories of the Future - Canada
Memories of the Future - India
Souvenirs du futur - France
  • These stories originally written between 1926 and 1930
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Joanne Turnbull

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Our Assessment:

A- : stylish, fantastical tales

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 8/1/2010 Boyd Tonkin
The LA Times . 15/11/2009 Colin Fleming
The Nation . 11/11/2009 Elaine Blair
The NY Rev. of Books . 23/6/2011 Adam Thirlwell
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/10/2009 Liesl Schillinger
TLS . 16/4/2010 James Womack

  From the Reviews:
  • "Forget "socialist realism": neither term remotely fits a grotesque comedy capturing the plight of "crossed-out" marginal people, who cling on in an age not of utopia but absurdity." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "It's not that Krzhizhanovsky's tales espouse a violent political radicalism or even the kind of art-house writing that went against the nationalist creations preferred by the Bolsheviks. Instead, what one immediately denotes in most of these pieces is a stately, demurring sadness, nostalgia crossed with brave, futurist dreams and the dual threat/relief of the cemetery plot." - Colin Fleming, The Los Angeles Times

  • "His stories depict, with remarkable frankness -- and with a mix of surrealism, fantasy and satire, all of which were falling out of favor with the Communist Party -- the poverty and political repression of 1920s Russia. (...) "Quadraturin" is not particularly representative of the collection--no single story is. Krzhizhanovsky tried out different tones, framing devices and surreal and fantastical juxtapositions (.....) Krzhizhanovsky is not interested in picking apart the sense-making mechanisms of language that readers take for granted. Instead he is feeling out ways of conveying both the quotidian dreariness and the horrifying threat of violence of 1920s Soviet life. (...) The fascination of Krzhizhanovsky's work today is also its limitation: the blatant criticism of the Soviet regime that makes itself felt, in different ways, in every one of the stories." - Elaine Blair, The Nation

  • "Krzhizhanovsky has been lucky in his translator: Turnbull’s translations patiently invent equivalents to his wordplay -- "a metaphysics that had cast its ‘meta’ through the gloom into the brume" -- and his prose’s playful precision -- "stone angels with their penguin-like wings grazing the earth." But the sample of his works available to the English-speaking reader is still limited. (...) Krzhizhanovsky was fascinated by how a person’s -- or revolution’s -- idea of reality was always porously hospitable to fantasy." - Adam Thirlwell, The New York Review of Books

  • "Krzhizhanovsky’s stories are more like dream diaries than fiction. Quite intentionally, he blurs the line between sleep and waking, real and unreal, life and death. While his translators admirably convey the whirligigging quality of his narratives, Krzhizhanovsky’s peregrinations demand unstinting focus and frequent compass checks." - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There is in Krzhizhanovsky an unbending insouciance of approach which helps explain why he was rarely published. (...) It is a worthy presentation of a writer who deserves discovery by an English-speaking audience." - James Womack, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In 'The Bookmark' an editor tells one of the characters:

You have talent. But you must put it into a pen, and the pen into your hand. Your stories are, well, how shall I put it ? Untimely. Put them away -- let them wait. In the meantime, a person able to cross things out would, most likely, suit us.
       Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's untimely stories had to wait a long time. Memories of the Future collects seven of them (of which one, the title piece, is near novella-length); two first appeared in the collection Seven Stories, but the rest now appear in English for the first time. Though written between 1926 and 1930, these -- like essentially all of Krzhizhanovsky's fiction -- were only published recently even in the original. While Krzhizhanovsky's fiction is not predominantly political, his flights of fantasy were understandably unpalatable to the Soviet regime. In their way, they are more subversive than even much that is overtly political and critical, since in their focus on imagination and creativity they challenged the most fundamental aspects of the Soviet experiment.
       Many of these are writer's and storyteller's tales; even the title story, which deals with a character obsessed with defeating time itself by building a time machine, involves a biographer who wants to present his life-story. Several feature characters with an abundance of stories to tell and ideas to share -- but finding hardly a market for them (as was Krzhizhanovsky's own fate); the 'theme catcher' from 'The Bookmark' is a particularly impressive incarnation.
       In 'Someone Else's Theme' a character approaches the narrator with an even greater offer:
I wonder, citizen, if you wouldn't like to acquire a philosophical system ? With a double embrace of the world; a precept for both the micro- and the macrocosm. Formulated according to strict and exact methods. An answer to all the great questions.
       Krzhizhanovsky's worlds are full of men who live largely in the mind -- philosophy, and philosophers such as Kant, find mention in nearly every piece -- and in their imaginations, and the few who are not creative types themselves (in 'Quadraturin' and 'The Branch Line') find themselves in nightmarish dream-(un)realities, of worlds turned practically inside out. Like several of his characters, Krzhizhanovsky is practically unable to keep himself from constantly tossing out (in both senses of the words) stories and alternate worlds, one after the other. Soviet reality intrudes to some extent, as in 'Memories of the Future', where the protagonist loses his inheritance to the new Soviet regime, but few of these other-worldly characters would fit comfortably in any sort of real-world locale.
       Krzhizhanovsky effortlessly and brilliantly conceives of super-natural worlds, with time-machines (in 'Memories of the Future') and "an agent for biggerizing rooms" (in 'Quadraturin') which literally does what it is supposed to, and an alternate world of dreams-come-true (and nightmares, too) in 'The Branch Line'. But it is the subtler, smaller flights of fancy and imagination that are often even more impressive.
       Each story consists of many small incidental bits and ideas, too, clever little asides such as a notice promoting "heavy dreams" the protagonist in 'The Branch Line' comes across:
Sweet dreams cannot withstand reality, sleepy reveries wear out faster than socks; whereas a heavy dream, a simple but well-made nightmare, is easily assimilated by life. Where dreams unburdened by anything disappear like drops of water in the sand, dreams containing a certain harshness will, as they evaporate in the sun, leave a hard kernel on the roof of Plato's famous cave: these deposits will collect and accrue, eventually forming a swordlike stalactite.
       While presenting harsh realities (alongside the other-worldly escapes into the imagination and shape-shifting alternate realities), there's surprising little cynicism here, though 'Memories of the Future' -- the most true-to-life tale, with the protagonist sent off to fight in the First World War and then having to deal with the Soviet reality -- has its moments of bitterness.
       Krzhizhanovsky is at his best with his slightly surreal twists and ways of seeing things -- and it allows him an effective means of addressing harsher realities:
A philosophy of life is more terrible than syphilis and people -- you have to give them credit -- take every precaution not to become infected. Especially by a philosophy of life.
       Krzhizhanovsky's writing meanders -- but in the most unlikely directions and ways. He is a writer unlike most any other, and while it is his fanciful leaps of the imagination that are most striking he is also a stylish writer: there's a remarkable felicity of expression to his story-telling, too.
       Memories of the Future confirms what Seven Stories suggested: that Krzhizhanovsky is one of the best 'lost' authors of the twentieth century to have now been rediscovered. The collected works in Russian now cover five volumes; one can only hope that more quickly makes its way into English.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 January 2010

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Memories of the Future: Reviews: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: Other books by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (Sigismund Krzyzanowski, Сигизмунд Доминикович Кржижановский) lived 1887 to 1950. He was a prominent but largely unpublished literary figure in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.

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