cover image The Return of Münchausen

The Return of Münchausen

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, trans. from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-68137-028-6

A time-traveling European folk hero becomes a fabulist diplomat in Krzhizhanovsky’s clever, fantastical addition to the Baron Münchausen myth. Falling from “a gigantic clockface of the centuries” into the 1920s, Münchausen travels from Berlin to London, taking up residence in Mad Bean Cottage and conquering high society with his extraordinary tales; soon Münchausen’s “aphorisms... are on lecterns in both houses of Parliament.” Apparently sent on a mission to the Soviet Union, the Baron returns with his wildest account yet. He recounts that because “in that ruined country, the position of the hardworking highwayman is extremely troublesome and not to be envied,” Münchausen eases the criminals’ lot by teaching them to blow out the Moon as if it were a candle; in Moscow, Münchausen’s reports of European capitals, Churchill, Chaplin, and “rivers of automobiles” literally melt a defunct countess. Münchausen’s ardent European reception, however, cannot help him with his ultimate challenge—facing a country that may be more darkly fanciful than his tales. Krzhizhanovsky, largely unpublished in the U.S.S.R. during his lifetime, draws both on Münchausen’s traditional feats and on cultural lore from Augustine, Diderot, and others. By sending his wily hero into the heart of Bolshevism, he insists that “sooner or later the nightingale will outwarble the factory whistle.” Readers will discover in this remarkable novel a very serious satire, an honest fable, and a bit of genius. (Dec.)