Lieutenant Kije Young Vitusisnikov

Yury Tynyanov, Author, Mirra Ginsburg, Translator Marsilio Publishers $18.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-941419-36-9
Two glittering novellas from a Russian master (1894-1943) satirize the abuses of 18th- and 19th-century czarist regimes, none too obliquely implicating Stalin himself, in full power when both were written (``I'll show them,'' says a ruler here, ``that Autocracy is still alive in Russia''). ``Lieutenant Kije,'' the inspiration for the suite by Prokofiev, is a triumph of grotesquerie: at the court of mad Emperor Paul I, terror reigns, with courtiers in such fear of the czar that none dares to emend an officially approved memorandum that erroneously declares one officer dead and, through another slip, creates a nonexistent lieutenant. With magisterial modulation, Tynyanov recounts the psychic disintegration of the first and the splendid rise of the second: the latter is exiled to Siberia and recalled, gains a flesh-and-blood wife and son, but ultimately suffers a fatal illness just as he is to be named a general. Similar absurdities mark ``Young Vitushishnikov,'' which juggles a larger cast, at the court of Paul's son Emperor Nicholas I, but drolly delineates each member: ``He had a lively understanding of people,'' Tynyanov says of one, ``and the notion of `human frailty' did not exist for him. Everything was only `a matter of habit.' '' In these works laughter and despair are inseparable. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Paperback - 978-0-941419-77-2
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