LIEUTENANT KIJE and YOUNG VITUSHISHNIKOV by Yury Tynyanov

LIEUTENANT KIJE and YOUNG VITUSHISHNIKOV

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two newly translated stories, the first of Tynyanov's work to appear in English, by the late Russian writer (1894-1943)--a contemporary of Mandelstam's, a formalist scholar, and a literary critic who turned to historical fiction and history as the Soviet political climate grew hostile to criticism. Both novellas satirize, in particular, the stupidity and incompetence of two of Russia's most reactionary tsars--Tsar Paul I and Tsar Nicholas--and, in general, the follies and elusions typical of authoritarian regimes. Lieutenant Kije, made into a film in 1933 with a score by Prokofiev, is ostensibly the story of a young soldier declared dead as a result of a clerical error. Set in the reign of Paul I, the mentally unbalanced successor to Catherine the Great, poor ""officially dead"" Lieutenant Kije is forced to wander around the countryside. Shunned by everyone, he becomes virtually a ghost. At the same lime, the nonexistent Lieutenant Nants--another result of the same clerical error--is solemnly sent by the Tsar to Siberia, pardoned, brought back, and advanced through the ranks to general. But when the Tsar decides that Nants is the only man he can trust, and calls for him, his officials hastily declare the general to be ill and dying and have the nonexistent corpse ceremoniously buried. The hero of Young Vitushishnikov is also a victim of imperial caprice--it is thought politic to declare him a hero--and is given all sorts of honors and advantages by Tsar Nicholas. Later, historians find that so real has his reputation of bravery become that old soldiers swear they knew him and witnessed his exploits. Not epic Russian writing, but stylish and subtle in its account of the tragic absurdities that untrammeled authority can perpetrate on a long-suffering populace. A welcome addition.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1990
Publisher: Eridanos--dist. by Godine