Andrei Bitov graduated from the Leningrad Mining Institute but chose to become a writer rather than a geologist. His new novel, Pushkin House (the second of his works translated into English), will probably share the "general acclaim" that greeted his short stories in Life in the Windy Weather, published a year ago. It is skillful enough to attract attention, and the varied typefaces, unfinished sentences, hints, and empty spaces between the paragraphs will impress snobbish critics with the many different levels of meaning.
Eager literary explorers will have inexhaustible opportunities to draw parallels, to trace sources, and to perform their mental aerobics in essays that fill the pages of magazines specializing in literary theory and criticism.
Bitov's Lev Odoevtsev is the essence of all Russian classical heroes so far—an aristocrat born in Petersburg, with slightly confused ambitions and ideas, partially an idiot (though not a gambler), on the verge of having a duel to the death with his arch-enemy. He is obsessed all the while with a Nastasya Filipovna under a different name. His crucial flaw, however, is to have been born in modern Soviet Russia, thereby ruining his chances for a respectable tragic ending.
Besides intentionally constructing his book on the foundations laid by Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky—their writings, destinies, and heroes, and...