A trove of centrifugal stories by long-forgotten Soviet writer Grin.
Grin, ne Grinevsky, was born in a town in north-central Russia where exiles were dispatched in the czarist era; his father was a Polish-born detainee. As soon as he could, he made for Odessa, worked in the port and at sea, and joined the Social Revolutionary Party. Sent out on a mission of assassination, Grin had second thoughts, a matter at the heart of the first story here, “Quarantine,” written in 1907. Claustrophobic and full of the anxiety that “was like someone else’s bothersome cargo, which could not be unloaded until it had been dragged to a certain point,” it resolves in uncertainty: The narrator will not kill anyone that day, but what he’ll do the next is an open question. Other stories are specimens from what Soviet critics called “Grinlandia,” an exotic South Seas–like location where people call guests “Señor”—and some of those inhabitants are in fact exiled convicts, such as the founder of the titular “Lanphier Colony,” who “issued phrase after phrase, [which], correctly divided by invisible punctuation marks, evaporated into the air, like clouds of smoke released methodically by an inveterate smoker.” Some of Grin’s fantasies must have seemed unbearable to contemporary readers, like his imagining of a vast banquet, discovered by the protagonist of the story “The Rat-Catcher,” consisting of cheeses, cakes, eggs, and “hams, sausages, cured tongues, and minced turkey,” all from a story written in 1924, a time of deprivation after civil war. Other of the stories are surpassingly strange, then and now, set in imaginary places “well clear of any shipping lanes,” that are redolent of Poe and Verne and whose happenings sometimes reach into the distant future, as in the title story: “I saw those same magic-eyed travelers, the kind this very city will see in the year 2021, when our progeny…will alight the cabin of his electric automobile onto the surface of an aluminum aerial causeway."
Strange and memorable. Students of modern literature should greet this as if discovering hidden treasure.