Review: Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

“Understanding is strictly forbidden. Even dreams have the right to dream.”
~Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future

Plot summary

“Written in Soviet Moscow in the 1920s—but considered too subversive even to show to a publisher—the seven tales included here attest to Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s boundless imagination, black humor, and breathtaking irony:

Silhouettes At The Railroad Station. Photo: Misha Sokolnikov (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Silhouettes At The Railroad Station. Photo: Misha Sokolnikov (CC BY-ND 2.0)

a man loses his way in the vast black waste of his own small room; the Eiffel Tower runs amok; a kind soul dreams of selling ‘everything you need for suicide’; an absentminded passenger boards the wrong train, winding up in a place where night is day, nightmares are the reality, and the backs of all facts have been broken; a man out looking for work comes across a line for logic but doesn’t join it as there’s no guarantee the logic will last; a sociable corpse misses his own funeral; an inventor gets a glimpse of the far-from-radiant communist future.”
More on Goodreads

On Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

“Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950) was a Russian and Soviet short-story writer who described himself as being ‘known for being unknown’ and the bulk of whose writings were published posthumously.

Many details of Krzhizhanovsky’s life are obscure. (…) Krzhizhanovsky was active among Moscow’s literati in the 1920s, while working for Alexander Tairov’s Chamber Theater. Several of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories became known through private readings, and a couple of them even found their way to print. (…) One of his last novellas, “Dymchaty bokal” (The smoky beaker, 1939), tells the story of a goblet miraculously never running out of wine, sometimes interpreted as a wry allusion to the author’s fondness for alcohol. He died in Moscow, but the place where he was buried is not known.

In 1976 the scholar Vadim Perelmuter discovered Krzhizhanovsky’s archive and in 1989 published one of his short stories. (…) His short parables, written with an abundance of poetic detail and wonderful fertility of invention — though occasionally bordering on the whimsical — are sometimes compared to the ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges. Quadraturin (1926), the best known of such phantasmagoric stories, is a Kafkaesque novella in which allegory meets existentialism.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • The absurdity of imagination
  • Nightmarish dreams and realities
  • Existence in sleep mode

“Oh no.’ Straight raised his eyes to me, and a slight smile touched the corners of his lips. ‘A philosophy of life is more terrible than syphilis and people – you have to give them credit – take every precaution not to become infected. Especially by a philosophy of life.” ~Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future

A gem springs to life, posthumously. Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future is the last piece of the 1920’s on My Top 30 Books list. Krzhizhanovsky, an author who received the fame decades after his death, is a rare genius. Colin Fleming writes in a review published in the Los Angeles Times (2009) that “(t)here was probably no worse time and place to be a postmodernist sage than in 1920s Russia. Still, bibliophiles like to believe that genius makes itself known, regardless of social pressures, and in the case of Ukraine-born Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, they may have a point — only it took about six decades for anyone else to catch on.”

The stories in the collection have the most absurd titles and ideas. It is like the dreamlike nightmarish visions were an inner escape route in the daily existence in a totalitarian state with strict censorship for arts. The melancholy is vivid in the stories. The protagonists are highly interesting characters, but in a wrong place and time where their output is not needed or valued. They barely exist in the unsuitable environments and long for times when circumstances are more fruitful and understanding.

Krzhizhanovsky mostly uses satire in his stories to emphasize the effect but in the story but he occasionally resorts to stating his feelings about the surrounding reality.

Liesl Schillingeroct depicts this in her review in the New York Times (2009).
“’I live in such a distant future that my future seems to me past, spent and turned to dust,’” he wrote. The time machine his protagonist boards in ‘Memories of the Future’ allows him to look back on the Soviet 1920s from the distance of the 1950s. He sees ‘destitute years stained with blood and rage when crops and forests perished while a forest of flags rose in revolt’ and concludes that ‘in a certain present there is more of the future than in the future itself’.”

It is as if Memories of the Future offers an escape route into a world where the laws of physics don’t apply and the realms of reality are relative. If the everyday and ordinary life rhythms bore you at times, this story collection is an almost free-of-charge way to travel somewhere else where it is not so ordinary and frustratingly tedious.

More information
– Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (2006): Yellow Coal, published in the Open Democracy net on 15 February 2006, retrieved on 2 November 2016
– Colin Fleming: ‘Memories of the Future’ by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Review in the Los Angeles Times on 15 November 2009, retrieved on 2 November 2016
– Liesl Schillingeroct: Night Visions. Review in the New York Times on 22 October 2009, retrieved on 2 November 2016

Other novels and stories by Krzhizhanovsky
  • The Letter Killers Club (1926)
  • Seven Stories (2006)
  • Autobiography of a Corpse (2013)
  • The Unbitten Elbow (2014)
  • The Return of Munchausen (2016)

“‘Listen here, what is this?!’ he sputters. ‘Have you given any thought to what you’ve written?’
‘I had hoped that other people might do that,’ says Shterer. ‘My concern is the facts.’
‘Facts, facts! Who’s seen them, these facts of yours? Where, I ask you, is the witness who will come forward and corroborate them?’
‘He’s coming. Or don’t you hear him? I mean the actual future.'”
~Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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