Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer in Baden-BadenSummer in Baden-Baden : A Novel

Doubling the narrative in style

I was on a train, traveling by day, but it was winter-time -- late December, the very depths -- and to add to it the train was heading north -- to Leningrad -- so it was quickly darkening on the other side of the windows -- bright lights of Moscow stations flashing into view and vanishing again behind me like the scattering of some invisible hand . . .
- Leonid Tsypkin, Summer in Baden-Baden, p 1

So begins a literary doppleganger in the sense that there are two narratives, one of Leningrad and today and Leonid Tsypkin, and one of Petersburg and yesterday and Fedya and Anna. Tsypkin's novel mesmerizes with two stories that enthrall with emotion and truth. A taut gem of historical and literary fiction that gets to the heart of Dostoevsky and appeals to all who have loved his work. The story clings to the real events of Dostoevsky's life torn form the pages of Anna's Diary and other sources that intertwine with Tsypkin's own modern journey. Among the themes of the book are those of all great Russian literature as seen through the painful experiences of Dostoevsky's own vices and the dreamlike desires of the narrator.

I was fascinated as the novel flowed back and forth between the first person I reflecting the narrator's memories and the third person scenes of Fedya and Anna -- between past and present. The taut lyricism that keeps the novel short, even through the use of long sentences is difficult to compare with any other novel I have read. However, in its uniqueness I would place it with Rilke's Notebooks of Malt Laurids Brigge. Different in many ways but just as unique in its ability to haunt one's memory. Sadly, the author did not live to see the English-language publication of this novel. Like other great Russian authors he worked in the medical profession, but he left us a gift based on his passion for literature.

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Summer in Baden-Baden: A Novel by Leonid Tsypkin. New Directions, New York. 2001 (1981).

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