"FIRST, SECOND" by Daniil Kharms
Kirkus Star


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Every journey has its logistical problems, but they come peck by drove in this absurdist's delight, penned in the 1930s by the Russian Kharms. A gent steps out one morning, ""singing a song,"" joins up with his friend Pete, then with a ""man no bigger than a jug,"" and another ""so long we couldn't see his feet."" They proceed, though not before solving the dilemma of their varying gaits. This fast becomes a comedy of cooperation, as the bonhomous characters fashion goofily elegant solutions to each new challenge--who rides the donkey, how to arrange themselves in boat and car. From the vicissitudes of this modest odyssey, Kharms--in Pevear's translation--conjures a drily humorous story that shrewdly captures the unique pleasures of working through a problem with other, very different, people. Or treat the book purely as a comic episode, a look at the varied permutations and combinations of a fixed set of possibilities, or an open-ended, shaggy-dog version of the theme most recently sighted in Ed Young's Donkey Trouble (1995). Rosenthal's superb illustrations are an irresistible cross-pollination of the Katzenjammer Kids with the daft tricksters found in Zap comics, situated in flat, graphically sophisticated landscapes.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1996
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"