ELKOST International Literary Agency

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The Monkey Link: A Pilgrimage Novel, 1991

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The final author's version of the novel was published in Russian in 2011 by AZBOOKA (Russia)

Published by: Finland - Gummerus (1994); France - Albin Michel (1996); USA - Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (1995);


Andrei Bitov's Monkey Link is a challenge to the form. Full of talk, philosophical speculation, and dark humor, The Monkey Link presents a highly original view of the world and of the former Soviet Union. Andrei Bitov wrote the three tales in the novel between 1971 and 1993, while the Soviet Union moved from peace to war to collapse. The first tale was published in Russia in 1976, but the second did not appear - and the third could never have been written - until after glasnost. As time flows through the novel, the changing fortunes of the author, the hero, the censor, and their country generate a very complex set of ironies. On the simplest level, The Monkey Link is a novel in three acts, a comedy of ideas. In the waning years of the Empire, a poet traverses Russia, from the Baltics to the capital, to the shores of the Black Sea. Along the way, he discusses man's place in the scheme of things with, among others, a very sober scientist and a very drunken landscape painter. He is harassed by the authorities, spends time on a movie set, and is an eyewitness to the August 1991 coup. Intricate in its structure but sweeping in its concerns, this exciting novel confirms Bitov's position as one of the most important writers in Russia today. (The Monkey Link: A Pilgrimage Novel - GoodReads)

With this book, Bitov completes the hybridization of fiction and essay forms that he began in Pushkin House, creating a creature every bit as weird, beautiful, and captivating as that hideous little Shakespeare-bird on the book's cover. To say that The Monkey Link goes "beyond" fiction is as wrong as saying that a fish goes beyond a lobster, or a man beyond a monkey: what the book does is use the lean conventions of essays to get rid of much of the usual fictional scaffolding, evolving a form as flexible and penetrating as a length of fiber-optic tubing. Strangely enough, Bitov's unwillingness to think (in the book at least) about the fictiveness of what he's writing lets him refocus his energy on detailing, digression, and observation: on the form and flow of his narrator's observations. I think it was Minsky (or Nabokov, or someone) who said that Russians repeated western genres, but repeated them "wrong," and that this was why their books were so crammed with genius (kind of like the "Wrong Olympics" that my uncle and I wanted to put on this summer, wherein medals would be awarded depending on how incorrectly competitors performed their events. I still like this idea). Bitov is strongly in the tradition of Russian wrongness, thank god, but in pursuing his intuitions with complete conviction he makes a "Booke" in the tradition of Burton or Melville: a pocket ecology made up of interlocking, structurally reflective environments, which, plugged into a patient reader's attention, breath like lungs and beat like hearts. In case you can't tell, I'm pretty amazed by it all. Well, it's amazing. (Josh Billings review on GoodReads.com)