Shklovsky: Witness to an Era

Serena Vitale, Author, Viktor Shklovskii, Author, Jamie Richards, Translator
Serena Vitale, trans. from the Italian by Jamie Richards. Dalkey Archive, $14 trade paper (225p) ISBN 978-1-56478-791-0
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In December 1978, Russian literature scholar Vitale (Pushkin’s Button) ventured to Moscow to interview Viktor Shklovsky (Energy of Delusion), the renowned writer, literary critic, and influential cofounder of Russian formalism. The engaging result is a rambling, fascinating journey through Shklovsky’s life and the history and art of the 20th century, punctuated by his discussions of everything from Tolstoy to television. Their wide-ranging conversations cover topics including the nature of art, poetry, the beginnings of Russian cinema, his St. Petersburg childhood, the formalist school, as well as his memories of key friends and colleagues. Anyone not steeped in the Russian avant-garde may want to brush up on the period and personalities; the text assumes a familiarity with Russian literature, history, and figures. Though Vitale provides a brief list of names at the back, more extensive, integrated annotation would make this multifaceted dialogue more attractive to a broader audience. Vitale’s new forward to the interviews, written in 2010, provides not only more off-the-record Shklovsky stories, but a darkly farcical picture of the bureaucracy of Soviet Russia, as she is followed and even physically assaulted by the KGB while pursuing her meetings with Shklovsky. (Nov.)
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