cover image Unwitting Street

Unwitting Street

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, trans. from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-68137-488-8

This collection by Polish-Russian-Soviet writer Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950, The Return of Munchausen) mixes playful and morose tones in stories of the kooky and the condemned. At his most frolicsome, Krzhizhanovsky endows all things with consciousness, from a pair of pants in the amusing “Comrade Punt” to books and letters in “Paper Loses Patience,” in which all the world’s paper goes on strike, demanding that only the truth be printed. But many of these stories are darker, obliquely or directly addressing the changes wrought by the Russian Revolution, including the fates of people considered “superfluous” under the new regime. The newly retired bank cashier in the bittersweet “The Window” turns his apartment window into a replica of his old station at the bank, but the drunk, solitary letter writer in “Unwitting Street” is more fatalistic: “logic demands that I be got rid of.” Even at his gloomiest, Krzhizhanovsky is clever and satirical in his descriptions, writing that “the standard of living has gone up to such an extent, it’s almost at our throats.” Indeed, Krzhizhanovsky is at his best when finding levity in grave revelations; compared to his lively past work in translation, this shows a more somber side. The writer posthumously enjoys quite a few recent converts, and some will appreciate this darker turn. (Aug.)