THE YAWNING HEIGHTS by Alexander Zinoviev
Kirkus Star


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If books--in the full power of their bulk and bitterness and total comprehensive polemic--were able to physically destroy, then Zinoviev's 829-pager, set at the foot of the Kremlin's already Gulag-weakened walls, would bring them down smartly in a sweet rush of brick. Written in six months' time by a former full Professor of Logic at Moscow University, The Yawning Heights creates an imaginary, out-of-time city/state called Ibansk (Ivan + the Russian verb ""yebat""--to fuck; hence, ""fucktown for Ivan""). And in Ibansk, everyone is named Ibanov. In Ibansk, ""everything obsolete and outmoded must be strangled in embryo."" The main building there is ""The Shithouse."" And ""Ibanskians have made great contributions to world culture. Radio, the samovar, little wooden dolls which fit inside each other--there's far too much to list."" In this nightmare city, a group of intellectuals--""Truth-Telier"" (clearly Solzhenitsyn), ""Dauber"" (the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny), ""Bawler"" (perhaps Zinoviev himself), ""Schizophrenic,"" ""Singer,"" and other dissidents--trade disquisitions, essays, slanders, reflections, smutty lyrics, scatalogical stories, and casuist treatises on Ibanskian reality. But, all of it is totally, utterly hopeless. A brilliant thinker, Zinoviev blackly sees Russia as having finally achieved its historical goal: a system--the ""Ism""--of perpetual self-subjugation, out of which there is no way except to ""die of boredom."" Built not upon reality but on its own rubber theses, Ibansk is a society of informers and incompetents, where everything is compromised. Zinoviev even puts down his own ""shamizdat"" literature, seeing it as a game, an excuse for Soviet public-relations maneuvers; the Kremlin lets some of it out for foreign consumption, crushes some for the benefit of hardliners at home. In philosophical but puckish critiques, in lampoons, mockeries, and Bronx cheers--Zinoviev tackles the whole thing; we're more used to dissident literature making selective, acid parables. Here instead it's all-out assault: slow, then snappy, then mordant, then howlingly funny, then slow again, then a monumental explosion. A remarkable and important book.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1979
Publisher: Random House