Posted on: December 27, 2008
by Robert Mueller
Reading Evgeny Zamyatin’s A Godforsaken Hole (Na kulichkakh, 1914), what is the novel like?
First of all, it is very funny. And familiar. And yet the strange thing is that those other novels and texts that it can remind you of would seem to come after; and it would not be any particular writer or book, but merely the feeling of its being so familiar.
What is funny about this book? Here we feel in Walker Foard’s translation (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1988) the full effect of its capricious humor. The magic of caprice does in fact lead to something different, some indication of Zamyatin’s genius and personality. But the novel is known for its biting satire, and it got on people’s nerves once they noticed it, and so they burned and banned it: “By decree of the Supreme Commissariat of the Committee of Culture under Special Arrangements of His Most Esteemed the Tsar Nicholas of Russia the Second, any and all publication, illustration, distribution or infestation whatsoever of the writings purported to be unleashed under the title A Godforsaken Hole authored regrettably by the profane pen of one Evgeny Zamyatin are now and hereby placed in subjection to penalty by law and outrightly forbidden.” (official quotation mine).…