Saturday, January 8, 2011
Memories of the Future
I currently find myself reading Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Don't ask me how to pronounce his name. Joanne Turnbull notes in her introduction to the collection of short stories, Memories of the Future, that Krzhizhanovsky originally came from Kiev, mastered a number of languages and traveled around Europe, and eventually settled in Moscow in 1922 in a small dark flat rented to him by a former Countess in exchange for English lessons. Thanks to an undemanding job he was able to devote the next 20 years to his dark, otherworldly prose that evoked Gogol in such stories as "The Runaway Fingers," in which a concert pianist's hand literally runs away from him in a major recital. Unfortunately, these stories languished for decades in the State Archives, only to be retrieved in recent years and find their way into print. Vadim Perelmuter has since compiled and edited a five-volume collection of Krzhizhanovsky's work, and in Memories of the Future Turnbull translates seven of his short stories, including the title story.
The first was "Quadraturin," a magic tube of paste that when applied to walls and ceilings can make even the most cramp Soviet apartment grow and metamorphosize into a spacious room. The protagonist, Sutulin, is given a tube, which doesn't look much unlike a tube of artist's paint, by a mysterious man, and applies to his room, which measures a little less than 9 square meters. Unfortunately, he drops the tube before he can apply any of the quick drying paste to the ceiling.
The next morning he awakes to find that has room has indeed grown outward in all directions, but it has taken on more polygonal proportions. This unnerves him but for the first time he finds he can actually pace in his room and this pleases him. He rearranges the furniture to better suit his new space. But, fear again grows as he hears a knock at the door and worries that the landlady will see his greatly enlarged room and call the authorities. He manages to keep his apartment secret for several days, but now grows more and more perplexed by the proportions his room has taken, growing ever deeper in lengths to the point his single light can no longer illuminate all of it. The window appears as a distant portal into another dimension. I won't give away the ending, as it has a wonderful Gogolian twist.
Here is a review of the book from The Nation.