Monday, July 25, 2005

I bought a book by Yuri Dombrovsky at a secondhand bookstore on Saturday - a novel, The Monkey Comes for Its Skull (is there an English translation?), plus a few essays and poems.

Dombrovsky started working on the novel in 1943, but it was published only in 1959: in 1949, he was arrested for the fourth time, and the manuscript was used as evidence against him and confiscated; when Dombrovsky was finally released and allowed to return to Moscow, his manuscript, miraculously, re-emerged - it was returned to him one day by a man who had been ordered to burn it.

The paperback I found on Saturday was published in 1991 and is of no typographic value whatsoever. Still, it led Mishah to make this wonderful observation: the last years of the Soviet Union were extremely eventful, busy and disorderly, and this, among other things, affected book publishing - a lot more stuff was being printed than before and this was probably causing a shortage in paper; also, after decades of Soviet bullshitting, the appearance of the book didn't matter as much as its content; and so, very often, several types of paper were used indiscriminately in the same volume. Yellowing pages suddenly interrupted by a thin white insert, right past the middle of the book - this is what my Dombrovsky's edition looks like: like Holden Caulfield's head, with that patch of gray hair that just doesn't belong...

One awaited the beginning of these irregular sections of the book, Mishah said, consciously and unconsciously, as if they carried some sort of a revelation - which they rarely did. A little like telling fortune using a poetry volume, making a wish and opening the book at random, then looking for a hidden message, some special meaning stored there especially for you...

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