Saturday, December 16, 2006

Zoo, or Letters Not about Love

Shklovsky, Viktor, 1893-1984. Zoo or Letters Not about Love: A Novel. Translated by Richard Sheldon. Chicago: Dalkey Archive Press, 2001. First English edition published by Cornell University in 1971.

Reviewed by Rebecca Stuhr

Shklovsky was a Russian writer living in exile in Berlin between the world wars. Zoo is an epistolary novel based on his love affair with Elsa Triolet. In this novel, the letters are written to Alya who has ordered the letter writer not to write about love: “Your love may be great, but it’s far from joyful,” she tells him in letter three. Alya’s lover’s letters are both heart breaking and funny. They are full of observations made necessary by the writer’s need to communicate with Alya while avoiding the subject he most wants to write about. But his heart is not only broken from his love for Alya. He also mourns the loss of his homeland. In order to avoid the topic of love, the letter writer expounds on apes and monkeys, the German spring, Hispano-Suiza automobiles (lacking a motor, unable to love, but great on mountain passes); publishing opportunities, the crease in his pants, other contemporary writers, and his homesickness for Russia, and of course, Alya. Every page of this book is thought provoking and witty. You’ll want to read this more than once.

1st floor PG3476.S488 Z323 2001

1 comment:

Helex said...

this is one of my favorite, novels, though i would suggest that any reader have a background knowledge of (or at least wikipedia access to) russian literary history. thanks for reviewing this great book. should be a classic for all real scholars of russian literary history, german expatriate history or for that matter literature.