May 01, 2020



Sergey Gandlevsky
Translated by Susanne Fusso
(Cornell University Press, 2019) $19.95

Circa 1970, a twenty-year-old poet reads and meets a first-rate dissident poet in Moscow . Krivorotov is smart enough to recognize that he himself is and will likely always be a second-rater, comparatively: “Krivorotov rhymed as if he were climbing a flight of stairs, guided by the bend of the railing. But Chigrashov used rhyme for balance, the way a tightrope walker uses his pole, and he slid by unsteadily, high up above, grinning with fear and daring.” (87). Lev Krivorotov is also smart enough to fall for the right women, but he is a second-rater there, too, losing them both, in one way or the other, to Viktor Chigrashov.

Illegible (the original title in Russian, НРЗБ, is an acronym for “illegible”) is made up of four parts, the first and third of which are told in the third-person, while parts two and four are told in the first-person by Krivorotov at the turn of the twenty-first century; he is now an academic and poet known primarily for his association with the late Chigrashov.

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