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17 November 2018

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Book Review

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Trepanation of the Skull

Sergei Gandlyevsky (Northern Ill., $29.95) Translated by Susanne Fusso

In an interview some years ago, Sergey Gandlevsky, one of Russia’s leading poets, said of his art: “I write (try to write) very accurately. Each word is important to me, each particle. I write, weighing everything on a druggist’s scale. In the beginning I listen for intonation, because for me it’s more important to carry through intonation than the content of a poem—that’s second in line.”

This minute focus on language, on careful and meaningful turns of phrase, are evident in this short, entertaining, autobiographical novel of life during the 1990s. Rich with period details (and superbly footnoted), it is the story of the author’s wild, bohemian life coming into conflict with incipient fatherhood and adulthood – coincident with post-Soviet Russia getting up on its feet.

Funny, profound (“But this is a guy with dead eyes and a Komsomol paunch. How can I explain that it’s possible to step out for three minutes with the trash can and return three days later, from Leningrad and without the trash can?”), and often poetic, this is a short, dense read (kudos to Fusso for her translation) that evokes all of the hopelessness and haplessness that filled life in that unusual period. And it is so beautifully written that is requires multiple visits.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2015