Book Review: The Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1976)

The Letter Killers ClubThe Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stop! Yes, You! Stop! Don’t Read Any Further!
No, I’m serious! Like SERIOUS! STOP!
I’m not going to repeat! STOP, RIGHT, HERE!

Ha, you didn’t listen, did you? Well then, be prepared to sever ties with only ever thing that made your enriching circle of reading, comprehending, reflecting, retrieving and disseminating complete (and) visible to the world : Words.

Writers, in essence, are professional word tamers; if the words walking down the lines were living creatures, they would surely fear and hate the pen’s nib as tamed animals do the raised whip.

You are at the entry gate of “The Letter Killers Club”, C/o Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Perception Lane, PO: Floating Ideation, Wanderers District. Now, shed your pompous lexis at the phantasm rug and remove your premium-leather vocabulary shoes by its side. Ease the creases on your expressive forehead lest they still throb of your age ol’ garrulously decorative tremors. Done? Good. With this sterilization of words, we are qualified now to enter his club. Let’s step in.

This room we have stepped into is a white inflated lattice of skeletal black bookshelves that have been robbed off their spines. But did you think they are empty? Not quite. They are teeming with life like a new born; what they hold within their bosoms are a thousand thoughts that run amok the most creative mountains in the deepest allegorical whims but alas, not visible and thus, not comprehensible to the regular eye.

Here we meet 7 members, aptly known as ‘conceivers’, who shun everything from the word’s womb since

A thought or conception, in its quest for creative life, must separate itself from the written word, which traps it like a zoological specimen on the printed page.

They meet every Saturday and on the behest of Zez, their president, Rar, Tyd, Das, Fev, Hig and Mov take turn to present a story every week which upon completion, serves as the fertile ground for further introspection. They prod the story with their incisive eye, feel its spine in their nimble minds, toss it in diverse scenarios and having arrived at its prime theme, place it in the correct shelf on the neatly stacked conception bookshelves.

But categorizing ideas, however, revolutionary, can come under severe contradictions since anything without definitive structure tantamounts to splintered interpretations and sensing this tide taking rather alarming proportions in the club, Zez brings an outsider, our narrator, one fine Saturday and directs him to simply be a part of the proceedings for the next few weeks, albeit keeping his faculties at full throttle.

So, for the next four Saturdays, we embark on a somewhat perplexing but undeniably thrilling journey. While in Rar’s ‘Actus Morbi’, we experience the quixotic dilemma of a theatrical actor when the ROLE refuses to accept him as his master, Tyd invokes a prickly, tingling sensation when a young, happy bride in ‘The Feast of the Ass’ is abruptly revealed the truth of ass in a dark, dense forest by a unnervingly calm priest. Having received lukewarm response to his idea, when Tyd tries to reform his story around the priest as a rather funny goliard who doubles up as jester in ‘The Goliard’s Sack’, Das savagely embosses his own with the very peculiar ‘Exes’ – a debatable idea of human brain being infected by artificially generated ’vibrophags’ to isolate the nervous consciousness from the musculature system, especially in the madmen. Fev tries to rein in the eccentricity by his own delineating thought, ‘Tale of Three Mouths’ where three friends transcend villages and towns to get the inscrutable answer to the purpose of a mouth. 

Getting repeatedly slapped by these whirlwind stories, our narrator is swarmed with more diminutive summaries than sunny clarities. But the power of idea has many silver linings and he tries to decode one by establishing an acquaintance with the unique Rar.

I tried to prove that we are not conceivers but eccentrics, harmless only owing to our self-isolation. A conception without a line of text, I argued, is like a needle without thread: it pricks, but does not sew.

But does Rar oblige under the rarified air of Zez’ authority and the stronghold of invisible manuscripts? Should we allow the avalanche of thoughts to bury us in knee deep snow of cryptic wisdom that may repeal a proven wit if plowed at too hard and restore a balmy intellect if excavated a tad swift?

A riddle is always made up of its answer; answers—so it has always been and will be—are older than questions.

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