The Return of Munchausen (Paperback)
Written in the 1920s but only recently come to light, this is easily one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. It’s a compelling story full of: tall tale adventures, continental Idealist philosophy, page-turning action, devastating critiques of Communist Russia, novel theories of probability, poetic language and puns galore. Make sure you read the endnotes!— From Andy's Staff Favorites
Baron Munchausen’s hold on the European imagination dates back to the late eighteenth century when he first pulled himself (and his horse) out of a swamp by his own upturned pigtail. Inspired by the extravagant yarns of a straight-faced former cavalry officer, Hieronymus von Münchhausen, the best-selling legend quickly eclipsed the real-life baron who helped the Russians fight the Turks. Galloping across continents and centuries, the mythical Munchausen’s Travels went through hundreds of editions of increasing length and luxuriance.
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, the Russian modernist master of the unsettling and the uncanny, also took certain liberties with the mythical baron. In this phantasmagoric roman à clef set in 1920s Berlin, London, and Moscow, Munchausen dauntlessly upholds his old motto “Truth in lies,” while remaining a fierce champion of his own imagination. At the same time, the two-hundred-year-old baron and self-taught philosopher has agreed to return to Russia, Lenin’s Russia, undercover. This reluctant secret agent has come out of retirement to engage with the real world.
About the Author
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950), the Ukrainian-born son of Polish emigrants, studied law and classical philology at Kiev University. After graduation and two summers spent exploring Europe, he was obliged to clerk for an attorney. A sinecure, the job allowed him to devote most of his time to literature and his own writing. In 1920, he began lecturing in Kiev on theater and music. The lectures continued in Moscow, where he moved in 1922, by then well known in literary circles. Lodged in a cell-like room on the Arbat, Krzhizhanovsky wrote steadily for close to two decades. His philosophical and phantasmagorical fictions ignored injunctions to portray the Soviet state in a positive light. Three separate efforts to print collections were quashed by the censors, a fourth by World War II. Not until 1989 could his work begin to be published. Like Poe, Krzhizhanovsky takes us to the edge of the abyss and forces us to look into it. “I am interested,” he said, “not in the arithmetic but in the algebra of life.”
Joanne Turnbull’s translations from Russian in collaboration with Nikolai Formozov include Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s The Letter Killers Club (winner of the AATSEEL Award for Best Literary Translation into English) and Autobiography of a Corpse (winner of the PEN Translation Prize).
"Playful and erudite, sprinkled with philosophy and politics, funny in places and melancholy in others, this novella, like most of Krzhizhanovsky's work, remained unpublished during his lifetime; how lucky that we can read it now.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“For all Krzhizhanovsky’s avant-garde bona fides, few authors speak more honestly about the power great literature can exert on a reader and on its creator.” —Scott Esposito, The National