The Symmetry Teacher

A Novel

Andrei Bitov; Translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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From one of the greatest Russian writers of the past half century comes a metaphysical mystery novel that defies categorization and confounds expectation. Andrei Bitov’s The Symmetry Teacher presents itself as the “echo” of an older British novel Bitov once read and had long forgotten. Unable even to recall the name of that novel’s author, Bitov reconstructs its literary vision through the fog of memory, creating a group of stories nestled together like a matryoshka doll. In doing so, Bitov evokes the anxieties of the late and post-Soviet decades, confronting urgent questions of conscience and
self-deception through an innovative style that revels in paradox and sleight of hand.

 

Unified by the delightfully maddening search for the identity of a writer toiling in obscurity, The Symmetry Teacher takes us through a curious series of episodes: A man meets the devil on a park bench and the devil shows him photographs of the fall of Troy, Shakespeare’s legs, and a terrible event that will take place in his future. A young poet fleeing his past is stranded on a windswept island and tormented by a lover and her shape-shifting evil twin. Three friends, unable to become writers, start a literary society where books and manuscripts are neither read nor returned and new members are accepted only if their work is unwritten. A king who reigns over all possible worlds and uses his power to remove stars from the sky turns out to be the compiler of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

 

Writing with impish daring, Bitov crafts an enchanting fiction from interwoven fables. The result challenges the boundaries between life and literature, author and reader, and memory and imagination, exploring the sacrifices that a writer may make out of ardor for his art. Mingling fantasy and satire with moral concern, Bitov is a deserving heir to the tradition of Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Bulgakov. The Symmetry Teacher showcases the work of a postmodern master at the height of his craft.

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Book Excerpts

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VIEW OF THE SKY ABOVE TROY

(Future in the Past)

 

A flash of lightning,

A drop of dew,

An apparition—

A thought about oneself.

—Prince Ikkyu

I am the only person in the world who might have been able to shed light on the mysterious death of Urbino Vanoski. Alas, it is not within my power. What makes a legend a legend is its immutability.

This is the way he died, or, rather, was reborn in the minds of readers and critics—in complete obscurity, ignorant of his own fame, and poor as a church mouse (I would not resort to

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Reviews

Praise for The Symmetry Teacher

"Blending elements of Nabokov, Calvino, and Percival Everett, Bitov’s shape-shifting novel is not really a novel so much as a narrative puzzle that revels in its own language . . . Bitov, a pioneer postmodern writer, packs physics-defying deaths, mysterious doorbells, and space aliens into this lively literary feat" —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Bitov’s skill—and here the translator Polly Gannon deserves much praise for her fluid and polished translation—is to show the elusiveness of words just as we grasp them: language cannot be pinned down in meaning, characters might or might not have a certain name—or even be the same person—and they may or may not be telling lies."
—Lucy Renner Jones, Words Without Borders


Praise for Pushkin House

“A brilliant, restless, impudent novel . . . It makes the city now called Leningrad a vivid and symbolically freighted presence and swathes a few hectic domestic events in a giddy whirl of metaphorically packed language . . . Dip in anywhere; small surprises keep crystallizing.” —John Updike, The New Yorker

“A novel full of fiery intelligence . . . The author this work most vividly recalls when at its eloquent and weird best is Dostoevsky.” —Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review

"Part of the bravery and triumph of Pushkin House is its language and formal daring. Bitov’s sentences whirl and glide on the page.” —David Remnick, The Washington Post Book World


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About the Author

Andrei Bitov; Translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon

Andrei Bitov is the author of Pushkin House, A Captive of the Caucasus, and The Monkey Link, among other works. He is the cofounder and current president of the Russian PEN Centre and a vice president of PEN International. He is the recipient of numerous awards and has been named a Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He lives in Moscow and St. Petersburg.


 

Polly Gannon is the director of cultural studies at the New York-St. Petersburg Institute of Linguistics, Cognition and Culture. She holds a Ph.D. in Russian Literature from Cornell University and is the co-translator of Word for Word by Lilianna Lungina. She lives, teaches, and translates in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Andrei Bitov

Jerry Bauer
Andrei Bitov

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Available Formats and Book Details

The Symmetry Teacher
A Novel
Andrei Bitov; Translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon

Hardcover

Hardcover
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
July 2014
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780374273514
ISBN10: 0374273510
6 x 9 inches, 288 pages, 2 Black-and-White Illustrations
$26.00

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
July 2014
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9780374712099
ISBN10: 0374712093
288 pages
$12.99
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From The Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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