The Symmetry Teacher
A NovelBook - 2014
From one of the greatest Russian writers of the past half century comes a metaphysical mystery novel that defies categorization and confounds expectation. Andrei Bitov's The Symmetry Teacher presents itself as the "echo" of an older British novel Bitov once read and had long forgotten. Unable even to recall the name of that novel's author, Bitov reconstructs its literary vision through the fog of memory, creating a group of stories nestled together like a matryoshka doll. In doing so, Bitov evokes the anxieties of the late and post-Soviet decades, confronting urgent questions of conscience and self-deception through an innovative style that revels in paradox and sleight of hand.
Unified by the delightfully maddening search for the identity of a writer toiling in obscurity, The Symmetry Teacher takes us through a curious series of episodes: A man meets the devil on a park bench and the devil shows him photographs of the fall of Troy, Shakespeare's legs, and a terrible event that will take place in his future. A young poet fleeing his past is stranded on a windswept island and tormented by a lover and her shape-shifting evil twin. Three friends, unable to become writers, start a literary society where books and manuscripts are neither read nor returned and new members are acceptedonly if their work is unwritten. A king who reigns over all possible worlds and uses his power to remove stars from the sky turns out to be the compiler of the Encyclopædia Britannica .
Writing with impish daring, Bitov crafts an enchanting fiction from interwoven fables. The result challenges the boundaries between life and literature, author and reader, and memory and imagination, exploring the sacrifices that a writer may make out of ardor for his art. Mingling fantasy and satire with moral concern, Bitov is a deserving heir to the tradition of Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Bulgakov. The Symmetry Teacher showcases the work of a postmodern master at the height of his craft.