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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The bravery of a writer who knew he would never see his novel in print

A further note on The Return of Munchausen, the posthumously published novel by - ready? - Sigizmund Krvhizhanovksy (Russian writer, composed this novel 1927-28): as noted in previous post on SK he was obviously thumbing his nose at the Soviet state under Lenin by, among other things, writing a surrealist and nonlinear narrative, creating a hero who's a European aristocrat from the 18th century, and upending the dicta of the Soviet authorities and censors that literature must celebrate the proletariat and, by extension, the Soviet state. Reading further into the novel, we can see that he also takes on the Soviet state head-on, in a relatively long chapter that is supposedly Munchausen's report to an English cultural society following his visit to the USSR; in this section there are numerous satirical accounts of the failures of Soviet communism: starvation, poverty, oppression, censorship, etc. These are not the most subtle satires, to put it mildly. They include descriptions of a starving populace and the government handing out a single poppy seed to each person on the bread line, so no one can truthfully say they didn't received some food. I think this would have been a stronger novel if SK had built the whole work as a report on the USSR - but to my mind the many attempts to retell portions of the legends of Baron Munchausen - episodes such as his traveling to Moscow by hitching a ride on a cannonball - ha ha - just distract from the overall message SK is trying to put forth. This is a very difficult novel for a contemporary (American) reader to take on and enjoy - full of obscure references to long-ago conflicts and debates, not especially funny or original topical satire, lots of references of course to Munchasen's legends, which is little known to contemporary readers and anyway of little interest (for funnier and more pointed satire, see Swift; for funnier tales of the overcoming obstacles and solving problems of leadership, see Wise Men of Helm or the 2nd volume of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza's empre). That said, any reader will appreciate SK's courage in writing these attacks on authority and will respect and feel some sorrow for any writer who creates a novel that he or she knows they will most likely never live to see in print.

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