There is something as poetic as it is sad that one of the great Russian-Jewish writers of the latter half of the 20th century worked as a pathologist (worked, that is, until the powers that be demoted and eventually fired him).
The New Yorker has a very short story by the magnificent author of Summer in Baden Baden Leonid Tsypkin (subscribers only). “The Last Few Kilometers” exhibits some of the same striking language and imagery as Tsypkin’s novel of his problematic love of the conflicted Dostoevsky, but this time put at the service of evoking a gray Soviet Moscow of an almost ghostly oppressiveness:
“In the early twilight, the dark, immobile figures around him were like symbols of people, and for a moment he thought that, if by some supernatural act he were removed from the car right that very second, nothing would change: the people would sit just as silently, continuing to resemble symbols of themselves; far below them would be the same river with cars streaming along its embankment road; and to the left would be the monastery with its white fortified walls and its empty, dingy courtyard.”
In December 2012 New Directions is publishing Tsypkin’s remaining writings under the title The Bridge Over the Neroch: and Other Works. Like Summer in Baden Baden these works take up Jewish themes, with the title novella following four generations of a Russian-Jewish family while in Norartakir, as the publisher writes, “a vacationing doctor takes revenge on an anti-Semitic hotel manager by telling her she has cancer, only to be shocked to find out that she actually does.” (As soon as I read the first half of that description I knew what the second half was going to say).
For more on the life and work of Leonid Tsypkin. And if you haven’t read Summer in Baden Baden, stop whatever supposedly “important” thing it is you’re doing now and go read it.
Photo – Khitrovka Square in Moscow by Nikolai Avakunov/wikimedia