Andrei Bitov: Преподаватель симметрии (The Symmetry Teacher)


The latest addition to my website is Andrei Bitov‘s Преподаватель симметрии (The Symmetry Teacher). This is a wonderful novel, nominally starting with a Russian man trying to reconstruct a story he read some time ago in English (which he does not speak very well), though we do not get to the reconstructed novel till well into the book. Meanwhile we meet Urbino Vanoski (an obscure author from the 1930s, enjoyed a veritable boom at the end of the sixties) who may or may not be dead, who may or may not have been a churchwarden or a lift operator, who may have been a writer or a painter (even he himself is not sure). He seems to have written numerous books but they may all be the same one (or two different ones). They all have different titles but the different titles may refer to the same book. They may or may not all have different plots. No-one, least of all the author, is sure. They may or may not have been published. They may or may not have been finished. Bitov plays numerous language games, numerous post-modern games, gives us excerpts from various novels which may not be the same, or different or overlap. Vanoski himself meets the devil who shows him a photo of his future self with a woman whom he (Vanoski) likens to Helen of Troy and, despite the fact that he has a very nice girlfriend, he goes off looking for Helen. He may or may not find her. It is all great fun, wonderfully inventive and totally chaotic and anarchic.

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