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13 November 2018

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Iliazd (Russian Library, $20)

It would be easy to dismiss as esoteric a book said to be “a parable mythologizing the Russian avant-garde,” by an author who was once called a “grammatical revolutionary and murderer of words.” Just a bit of experimental prose by some Georgian-Russian leftist who associated with Futurists and Dadaists, who invented everythingism and beyonsense, and who later in life designed beautiful books with Picasso and Miro.

But that would be a mistake, for Iliazd’s (birth name Ilia Zdanevich) rediscovered and newly translated work is a gem.

Plot-wise, there may not be much special to draw one to this work (murder, terrorism, a Caucasian adventure, love, betrayal, death), but the point here is not the story line and characters, but the words with which they are created, the subtexts and literary references, the mystical bridging of the human and inhuman.

With a book like this, you can dip in at any point and be carried away by Iliazd’s poetry in prose:

The moon caught fire and dressed the forest in motley. Nothing was audible except the fountain nearby, and you couldn’t have heard anything anyway. Needles gave way to leaves, pitch to the odor of humus.


He had grown up and into his manhood. His dark beard was not distinct from his face, dusty and sunburned. Of his splendid attire, only rags remained. His boots were torn and only his rifle looked new. But there was such valor and magnificence in the whole setup that those in the tavern stood up and doffed their hats.

And yet the imagery and characters draw you unwittingly into the plot, and you find there is something there after all, something so cinematic that even Nabokov is said to have cribbed bits from the work.

In short, there are many levels and layers in this remarkable, short novel. And all of them deserve a close look.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: July/August 2017