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Mikhail Levitin

A Jewish God in Paris

Three novellas

paper ISBN 9785717200851
ebook ISBN 9785717201087
200 pp.

Translated by Amanda Love Darragh

“Mikhail Levitin made his name as a director in the 1980s by resurrecting one of the genuine black holes of Russian/Soviet culture: the plays, poems and prose of an eccentric group of writers in the 1920s called Oberiu. The name is partially an acronym for “Association of Real Art” and partially nonsense. The most important part is the nonsense. But Levitin didn’t merely rediscover some forgotten and banned works, he used their aesthetics to create a unique theatrical style.” – The Moscow Times

"Levitin's theatre has often brought me to laughter or to tears and has, just as often, shocked, startled or amazed me. I first encountered him in one of his other guises: as a writer whose novel Total Indecency had been short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize. Somehow even the name of the book gives a vision of its author, of his outrageous iconoclasm to which all responded with enthusiasm." – Francis GREENE

“Levitin’s prose has little to do with literary fashion: many of his stories serve as a direct continuation of upheavals in his own life. Such frankness and bald confessionality very often put readers off, but not Levitin’s. His distinctive ’egorealism’ combined with certain facts from his biography excite intense interest. True, how close his characters are to their possible prototypes, one can sometimes only guess. Take, for instance, ’A Jewish God in Paris.’ After a marital infidelity, the hero goes to splendid Paris to pray for absolution. He takes his family with him in the hope that the journey will help win his beautiful wife’s forgiveness - a forgiveness that seems to elude him. Yet the theme of adultery is not the main thing. More important is the particular, magical world of Levitin’s hero: it serves him as an indulgence while hypnotizing the reader and taking him hostage...” – ITOGI

In A Jewish God in Paris the protagonist, suffering from a guilty conscience after his latest love affair, takes his wife and children to Paris in a final attempt to save his marriage: But his beautiful wife resists his ingenious peace-making efforts with silence and "unrelenting hatred." He has been unfaithful to her once too often and the situation has gone beyond the point of forgiveness. He views his infidelities as a way to embrace the wide variety of the world. Nevertheless he is sincere in his soul-searching, mercilessly examining the darkest corners of his soul and apparently inadvertently allowing the reader to witness his torment.

With Only Sandals on his Feet follows the adventures of the 15-year-old Victor Kuza. A precocious teenager with a passion for theatre, Kuza discovers a book about the mysterious Chamber Theatre in a secondhand bookshop and makes it his mission to find out more about it.

Total Indecency is a tribute to 1920s theatre director Igor Terentiev, whom we meet in 1917 as he flees from the Bolsheviks to Constantinople, abandoning his wife and daughter. He returns to Moscow, mounts a wildly unconventional production of a Soviet play, and mischievously applies for Party membership, giving his father's occupation as Colonel of the Tsarist Gendarmerie. This causes his arrest and exile to forced labor.

MIKHAIL LEVITIN, whose Hermitage Theater has been a force in Moscow since the Brezhnev era, was born in Odessa in 1945. He mounted his first production (Mozart and Salieri) as a maverick seventh grader. Soon after that, he began a correspondence with the Moscow Chamber Theater actress Alisa Koonen, widow of the theater’s creator, Alexander Tairov. At the age of 16, he entered the State Institute of Theater Arts in Moscow (GITIS) where he stunned critics and the public alike with his degree production of Peter Weiss’ How Mr. Mockinpott Was Cured of His Sufferings. Later dramatizations by this “uncontrollable” director — including Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five — further established Levitin’s name but kept the Soviet authorities from giving him his own theater. A three-hour extra¬vaganza based on then-banned works by Daniil Kharms (1982) and a breakthrough staging of an unfinished play by Yuri Olesha (1986) marked the start of his association with the Hermitage where, because of his being a Jew and a non-communist, his position as artistic director would not be made official until perestroika.
Throughout his directing life Levitin has written prose, biographical and autobiographical. Sploshnoye neprilichie (Total Indecency), his tribute to the futurist 1920s stage director Igor Terentiev, was short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize. His biography of Alexander Tairov is due out this year.