The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar
by Yury Tynyanov
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 27 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 04 Aug 2021
Columbia University Press, Russian Library
The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar, a novel by Yury Tynyanov, a leading figure of the Russian formalist school, describes the final year in the life of Alexander Griboedov, the author of the comedy Woe from Wit. As ambassador to Persia, Griboedov was savagely murdered in Tehran in 1829 in an attack on the Russian embassy.
The novel is not only one of the central texts of Russian formalist literary production but also a brilliant meditation on the nature of historical and poetic consciousness and on literary creation. It is a complex and fascinating work on the nature of the relationship among individual memory, historical fact, and the literary imagination. The result is a hybrid text, containing elements of literary biography, the psychological existential novel, and the spy novel, and a deeply personal, almost confessional work about the relationship of the writer to his generation and the state. Written in 1927 and 1928, almost a century after the events it depicts, The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar bridges two watershed periods between revolution and reaction. At a time when the Soviet regime was becoming increasingly restrictive of freedom of expression and conscience, Tynyanov examined themes of disillusionment, betrayal, unrealized potential, and wasted talent. Unabashedly intellectual yet full of intrigue and suspense, The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar is one of the great historical novels of Russian modernism.
"The well-known formalist literary scholar Yury Tynyanov was a master of form. In bracing prose style, his novel The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar dives deeply into the life of the Russian poet Alexander Griboedov and Russian cultural and political history. This translation by Anna and Christopher Rush brings the reader every unexpected turn of Griboedov’s life and thoughts."
—Sibelan Forrester, Swarthmore College
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 9 members
Because there is an element of biography to the main character in this book, you may be fooled into thinking you need to know more about Russian foreign affairs or the literary intellectual scene to indulge in this one. Don’t. The world of cultural references you might be missing out on unless you’re a Russian scholar (with a minor in Southwestern Asia) just keeps building up delicately in the background like a lavish tapestry made of some subtle fabric that does not stand in your way of the story. We get to follow Griboedov as he wanders first through Moscow and then through imperial Persia engulfed in an aura of political intrigue. Both a socialite and an intellectual, Griboedov is always introspective, even when he is frivolous. There is a strong sense of melancholy that permeates every word and that renders an added depth to the plot that is hard to assimilate to a single factor. The extraordinary events of Griboedov’s life are presented to us through a cinematic lens. We are his witness as he meets with tsars and generals and crosses the dessert as if distractedly and inevitably. On another note, you might argue that a Nabokovian reader is a deranged reader, who will pick up clues where there are none, but if you’ve read The Gift you might be tempted like me to see a correspondence between chapter 4, entirely dedicated to narrating the critical biography of Chernyshevski, aptly named “Life of Chernyshevski” and our own: “Death of Vazir-Mukhtar”. Nabokovian wink or not, an utterly satisfying read on its own. And a bit of a spin on the historically canonized Russian novel by an icon of literary theory. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Melancholy and happenstance foreground this story of the magnificent life of Alexander Griboedov. Griboedov meets with generals and tsars as he journeys from Moscow to the deepest parts of the Persian empire. Despite being at the precipice of Russian society, Griboedov never loses sight of himself and is self-aware, adding an excellent level of pathos to this journey. A dedicated reader of Russian will likely find themselves immersed in familiar names, characters, and places; but by no means is this deeper knowledge necessary to get the most out of this story.
Yury Tynyanov was a leading literary scholar, critic and writer of the Soviet formalist school and in 1928-29 published a fictional account of the last year in the life of Alexander Griboyedov (1789-1829), a Russian writer best remembered today for his classic drama Woe from Wit, but who was also a diplomat and who was appointed ambassador to Persia, where he was brutally murdered in 1829 in an attack on the Russian embassy. Tynyanov’s modernist novel has been described as one of the greatest Russian historical novels and it’s good to see it finally translated into English and available to a wider readership. That said, it’s not a book I got on with and is probably not one for the general reader as it presupposes at least some knowledge of Griboyedov and his life and times. It’s a complex work, multi-layered, with many allusions and digressions and with many different stylistic elements and language. I enjoyed reading some of the more purely factual passages, especially those when Pushkin turns up in the narrative, but overall this was a book I was interested in rather than one I actually enjoyed.
I choose this book because I mistakenly mixed it up with "The Death of Vivek Oji" by Akwaeke Emezi, which was silly of me because that book had already published in 2020, is set in Nigeria today and couldn't be more different from a historical novel first written over a hundred years ago by a prolific author, dramatist and translator in the Russian Formalist School, who died in 1943 because of MS. This is a research novel, and has been meticulously researched, but the parts where the lines blurred and dialogue was put in the characters mouths was ineffective and infantile and the parts that were "investigative" were speculative and ill informed. The translation was childishly rendered; it read like an incredibly long fairy tale. Tynianov (the author)'s entire premise is based on the last year in the life of Alexander Griboyedov, a diplomat and playwright in the Russia of Tsar Nicholas I. It charts his dizzingly highs in St Petersburg in March 1828, through the success of the Turkmenchai peace treaty with Persia, his return to Persia as the "Vazir-Mukhtar" (Minister Plenipotentiary) and his deserved death at the hands of a Tehran mob in January 1829 because of his wrongheaded approach to Iranian culture, a total failure of diplomacy. It's an old school road novel, although not quite as old as The Odyssey. His original translator, Susan Causey, worked extensively on Russian cultural projects in the 1990s and 2000s, and she worked on the translation for five years but was killed in a road accident before she had the opportunity to publish it. This version was translated by Anna Kurkina Rush and Christopher Rush. Admittedly the cover of this one is far superior. Of course I wanted to learn more about Russian writing and I knew this was supported by Read Russia and the Institute of Literary Translation but for me the best bit about this was the lively and informative Introduction by Prof Angela Brintlinger Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. I enjoyed having the opportunity to read this book more than the book.
The assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Persia Alexander Griboyedov by a mob in 1829 is at the heart of this stunning novel written after WWI by Yury Tynyanov, a Russian modernist writer mostly known for his affiliation to the Russian Formalist School. The death of Vazir Mukhtar (ambassador plenipotenciary) is centred around the last few months in the life of Griboyedon, an important figure on the early 19th century Russian literary stage & known mostly as a dramatist. He was also a talented diplomat under Nicholas I and represented the Tsar in Tehran until his untimely death in 1829. Tynyanov was mostly known as a trailblazer of innovation in literary theory. This is a modernist novel where the author plays the writing of style, often using fragmented sentences and sometimes juxtaposing every day speech and the heavy bureaucratic language of the Russian diplomatic administration. Finally It is a great historical novel, a political reflection on early 19th century European history & its diplomatic machinations. I particularly enjoyed how the relations between Russians & Muslims outside of Russia are framed in the story. It's really a great gift to have this incredible novel available today in English especially for anyone interested in 19th century Russian history. Many thanks to Netgalley and Columbia University Press for the opportunity to read this wonderful book prior to its release date
It's wonderful to have this colorful translation available - this work is expansive, ruminative, and certainly well-timed for a read, about two hundred years on from the events it depicts and a hundred years on (approx) from its publication.
I received an electronic ARC via NetGalley. This is a good translation of a book that is certainly important to Russian Formalism, but ultimately, I was able to appreciate it as significant without particularly enjoying it. I'm glad to have read it, and it is innately valuable to have a good English translation available for audiences interested in it but perhaps not sufficiently proficient in Russian to read it in the original. It is likely to be of interest mainly to somewhat specialist audiences, however--if this is a literary vein you're interested in exploring, by all means read it, but most casual readers are likely to become somewhat frustrated by it. This is by no means a fault of the translation, which in my opinion does a very good job of completing what must have been a very difficult task.
A well researched fictionalized version of a famous historical event where the author fills in the blanks where information wasn't available and in some instances, literary freedom was exercised [for the story]. The death of Griboyedov dies in a conflict in Tehran after being the ambassador for only few weeks. This reads like a Grecian tragedy though the events that led to the death of the man are all real life inspired. Through this incident the author exposes Russian's aristocracy, diplomatic relations and the emerging cultural changes that was slowly taking place (Griboyedov was sent to Tehran is retaliation to his criticism of the aristocracy and his literary pursuits). <i>Thank you Columbia University Press and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.</i>