Nick Holdstock at Open Letters Monthly:
Given the restrictions on Krzhizhanovsky’s work, it’s unsurprising that people (or sometimes creatures) desperate to find an audience for their tall tales feature heavily in his stories. If there can be said to such a thing as a typical Krzhizhanovsky story – this is, after all, a person who wrote stories in which the Eiffel Tower tries to join the Soviet cause, a man gets lost in a tiny room, and a toad from the River Styx bemoans the lack of exclusivity in the underworld – it would be “Someone Else’s Theme” in which a dishevelled man offers a stranger an entire philosophical system in exchange for dinner. Krzhizhanovsky’s pessimism about publishing under the Soviets is exemplified by his novella The Letter Killers Club, in which writers gather to tell each other stories under the strict condition that none of them can be written down. Throughout Krzhizhanovsky’s work there are withering assessments of the kind of literature that did satisfy the demands of the state. In “The Bookmark” he speaks of “the long, bare literary pavement of today,” while in “Seams” he bemoans the fact that “If in the past writers looked for themes in their inkwells, close at hand, in and around themselves, now they don’t look at all: Themes are assigned.”
The tall tale of Baron Munchausen was a perfect fit for Krzhizhanovsky. The real-life inspiration for this purveyor of the fabulous was Baron Hieronymus von Münchhausen, a German nobleman who fought with the Russians against the Turks in the mid-18th century. After his retirement, the Baron threw lavish dinners at which he regaled his guests with exaggerated versions of his military exploits.