Monday, January 10, 2011

The Theme-Catcher

No question about it, Krzhizhanovsky is a fabulous storyteller.  In "The Bookmark," he tells the story of a theme-catcher, a man who can make up a story on the spot on any theme you give him.  The narrator of the story meets the theme-catcher on a crowded park bench, able to capture anyone's attention with the stories he tells.  He points to a spot on a distant ledge and immediately falls into a story of a tomcat trapped on the ledge facing the indifference of tenants who won't let it back in through their windows.  Left to suffer his fate over two grueling nights and days, which the theme-catcher meticulously describes, creating a fabulous sense of suspense in the process, an ill-wind eventually lifts the shivering cat off the ledge and drops it to its sad end.

Eventually, the narrator learns more about the theme-catcher, a man not much unlike Krzhizhanovsky who came to Moscow in 1922 and has struggled to get himself into print these past 5 years.  He tells stories of his encounters with editors and the many rejections he faced, finally giving up on the process and keeping a mental log of his many themes.

Turnbull noted that the story is a thinly veiled criticism of the social realism that came to pervade Russian literature.  The theme-catcher feels that the art of storytelling has been lost, as does the narrator who can no longer find a book worthy of his finely woven silk bookmark.  But, while the narrator seems to harbor a sense of nostalgia, the theme-catcher is only willing to look into the future, holding out hope it seems that the art will one day be revived.

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