Books by Abram Tertz

Released: Feb. 16, 1994

Fabulously amusing mock-academic flight of fantastic literary criticism about Russia's beloved national poet, Aleksandr Pushkin, written in 1966-67 by Tertz/Andrei Sinyavsky (Goodnight!, 1989; Little Jinx, 1992, etc.) while serving the first of seven years in a Soviet labor camp. When this finally saw light in Russia in 1989, Russian critics were outraged. Pushkin (1799-1837) was not only a Russian Negro but also the first ``civilian'' to make a name for himself in Russian literature, and Tertz (Sinyavsky's pen name when having fun) takes Pushkin down ten more pegs or so, calling him ``not a diplomat, not a secretary, a nobody. A goldbricker. A deadbeat...'' His Pushkin is a trickster of letters who made his name by avoiding all literary pretenses, writing lines of any length he pleased, and carrying on like an all-male puff or lazy dandy who had special insight into what the ladies needed—and gave it to them in verse, as well as in life. Later, he grew tired of his own spectacle and secretly yearned to be more common. Says Tertz: ``Since youth he had regarded his black otherness in society, inherited from his grandfather Ibrahim, with great enthusiasm, rightly viewing his wild pranks as a sign of the elemental force raging within him...[H]is Negro blood took him back to the primordial sources of art, to nature and myth.'' Tertz is especially keen on Pushkin's eroticism: ``When you read Pushkin, you get the feeling that he has some bond with women, that he is at home with women...It must be that flirts are somehow akin to women's aery composition, because of which they unconsciously want everything both within and around them to fly and flutter (isn't that...the origin of the skirt and other muslin and gauzy zephyrs of the feminine toilette?)...Women involuntarily sniff out in the flirt a brother in spirit.'' Read Tertz before the long essay by co-translator Nepomnyashchy. Read full book review >
LITTLE JINX by Abram Tertz
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

A painfully funny parable of loneliness, alienation, and crippling guilt by the ÇmigrÇ author of, among others, Soviet Civilization (1990) and the novel Goodnight! (1989). Tertz's dwarflike, woefully underqualified hero, Andrei Sinyavsky, shares his name with his pseudonymous creator—and that's about all he shares with anybody, from the moment he ``waived my right to goodness, fame, and fortune'' so that magical pediatrician Dora Aleksandrovna could cure his childish stutter. Once his tongue is loosed, little Sinyavsky, free to talk normally, launches into a profoundly third-rate career as a compulsive hack writer whose tale of how he played an accidental part in the deaths of all five of his older brothers—one drowned trying to save the fiancÇe who was trying to save Little Jinx; another got denounced and imprisoned for his anti-Stalinist response to his brother's enthusiastic burbling (``You really have a nook of the future here. It's a veritable Thomas More's Utopia!''), and so on—is peppered with reminiscences of his early successes (``Why We Like Ilya Isakovsky''), examples of poems that taught him ``a lot about life'' (`` `And so, she was called Tatiana'- -How beautifully expressed!''), and stunningly irrelevant aphorisms (``I think that automobiles are basically responsible for the current decline in the arts''), all faithfully rendered into fractured English by the resourceful translators. Spurned by another Dora who upbraids him for letting her get away, driven away by his grieving mother, bitten by the dog he's delivered of six puppies, Little Jinx finds comfort only when he identifies a well-upholstered store clerk as a new incarnation of Dora Aleksandrovna, who disappears after leaving him with a walnut chest presenting tantalizingly contradictory visions of his dead brothers' testimonials at his own wake. Gentler in its satire than the stories and essays that got Tertz five years in a Soviet labor camp: as winsomely, tearfully loony as the Gogol tales it recalls. Read full book review >