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Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms

Matvei Yankelevich, Editor, Matvei Yankelevich, Translator
Matvei Yankelevich, Editor, Matvei Yankelevich, Translator , edited and trans. from the Russian by Matvei Yankelovich. Overlook $35 (287p) ISBN 978-1-58567-743-6
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In this surprising new collection of Soviet writer Kharms's short pieces, including poetry and journal entries (one of which appeared in the New Yorker earlier this month), readers will find echoes of Beckett, Ionesco and Kafka, among others. Indeed, Kharms (1905–1942) was part the OBERIU (Association of Real Art), a Soviet artists' collective often described as Absurdist in orientation. A self-proclaimed member of the avant-garde, Kharms made often violent nonsense out of everyday life. In 1931, he was briefly exiled because his work did not promote Socialist Realism, as Yankelovich explains in an informative introduction. Kharms's life suffered a complete reversal after his return, a fact that shows in his writing. There's a youthful showiness to the earliest work that is replaced by a more fierce desperation in the later years, when Kharms often went hungry and knew his work would not be published. The book's wonderfully contradictory title, is in unexpected contrast to the weary resignation of a journal entry: “Today I wrote nothing. Doesn't matter.” Yankelovich, who provides the fine translations, makes much of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the work but almost combatively refuses to read any political meaning into his subject's writings, which alternate between playfulness and a sense of futility. (Oct.)

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