cover image Autobiography of a Corpse

Autobiography of a Corpse

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, trans. from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-1-59017-670-2

Sly, vibrant, and often very funny, Krzhizhanovsky’s stories, originally written in the 1920s and ’30s (though virtually unpublished during the author’s lifetime), are a joy. In “In the Pupil,” the narrator’s reflection in his lover’s eye leads to all kinds of drama. “Postmark: Moscow” consists of 13 letters to a friend and gives a finely rendered sense of place and time: “Moscow is a mishmash of utterly unrelated (logically and optically) building ensembles...” In “The Collector of Cracks,” a fairy tale leads to musings of great importance. The title story records a personal history related to a room. In “Yellow Coal,” human spite is harnessed as an energy source. “The Runaway Fingers” provides both a lesson in the etiquette of proper inquiry and an investigation of artistry. The best of the many exceedingly fine stories here is “The Unbitten Elbow,” in which a man’s life’s goal of trying to bite his own elbow leads to scarcely imagined changes in society. Full of precise detail, this book will instruct, delight, and then leave the reader pondering long after the reading is finished. (Nov.)