Literary roundup: Polish vampires, Russian apartment sellers and German inadequates (take your pick)

After arresting him and then throwing him out of the country the (admittedly different, i.e. not quite Soviet) Russian government is redressing the poetic balance by opening a museum to poet Joseph Brodsky in his former St. Petersburg apartment.

The catch – the city government owns all the rooms of the apartment except one, and in that room there happens to be a 74 year-old women who is willing to sell the 44 sqm room for a measly $562,000. And if you have any doubts about the negotiating skills of the officials involved be aware that they have been trying to talk this woman down in price since she was a young 61 years old, in 1999 – alas, without success.

Where is Woland and his miraculous apartment-ownership changing skills when you need him? Oh, that’s right, he came to Moscow, and back when this obstinate old lady was only an infant. But in Russia in the ‘90s there were stories of old people who signed over their apartments to a new owner after their deaths so they could make use of the money in their remaining years. It was just that once the contract was signed their remaining years shrunk down to weeks or days as they suffered unforeseen fatal accidents. Apparently those gangsters were only after money and cared little for their nation’s poetic heritage.

The result is that Vasily Kichedzhi, who is either the deputy governor or vice mayor of St. Petersburg, is suggesting a joint Russian-American project to obtain the necessary financing. According to the St. Petersburg Times “Kichedzhi said the long period of time during which Brodsky lived in the U.S. had a significant influence on the poet’s creative works.” (i.e. we kicked him out, you took him in, so pay up!)

– On a similarly bloodthirsty note Words Without Borders latest issue International Graphic Novels: Volume VI features a Polish graphic novel by Krysztof Gawronkiewicz and translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones called Romanticism. It is the story of bringing the country’s three great Romantic figures – the composer, Chopin; the artist Jan Matejko and the poet Adam Mickiewicz – back from the dead, a resurrection of “the greatest epoch” in Poland’s cultural history. The only problem is that these sainted artists come back as vampires. Other highlights of the issue include the second part of The Eternonaut by Héctor G. Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López.

– And though you need a subscription to view it online the February 9th issue of the NYRB has a great article by Max Hastings on the Nazi high command. Having just read and reviewed a convincing portrait of Reinhard Heydrich in Philip Kerr’s Prague Fatale it was interesting to read a different take on the Gestapo headman and his boss and rival Heinrich Himmler.

Hastings sums up the ultimate mystery of the rise two power of these two men and their like in the article’s closing sentence:

“The manner in which one of the most educated and civilized societies in the world acquiesced in the dominance of gangsters, thugs, and inadequates, possessed of negligible gifts for anything beyond mass murder, will baffle and terrify humanity until the end of time.”

– Just in case you require a more positive take on humanity than the above murderers, vampires and obstinate tenants allows read Paul Wilson’s piece on Václav Havel.

Photo – screenshot from Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade

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