A Year in Reading: Yelena Akhtiorskaya

December 9, 2014 | 2 books mentioned 2 min read

coverThe Princess of 72nd Street by Elaine Kraf is a book that makes you feel lucky — lucky to have found it, lucky that it exists to be found, lucky to be on a crowded train reading it while dangling over the pate of a poor woman with her nose buried in Lena Dunham’s memoir. Such luck is often an island in the midst of a vast sea of misfortune (this is one of my observations on reality; my method is not scientific). Elaine Kraf captures the mindset of a manic depressive who is at once embracing the psychotic episodes that she calls her “radiance” and struggling to hold onto sanity, all while trying to sort out the devastation that is her love life. There is almost no information about Elaine Kraf on the Internet, but a hunch and some dubious research leads me to believe that she suffered from mental illness herself, didn’t have the easiest life, and is no longer living it. She never got the recognition she deserved. When this novel was published in 1979, Kirkus summed it up as “[f]amiliar work from a single-grooved experimenter, but somewhat more palatable this time around.“ The takeaway (other than an explosion of profanity) is that she wrote more books. They are not in print.

coverI’m currently rereading Victor Shklovsky’s Zoo, or Letters Not about Love. This may be the perfect book. Shklovsky was madly in love with Elsa Triolet (one half of the hottest Russian-Jewish sister pair in all of history—and there’s some stiff competition), but luckily (for us) his love was unrequited. Since she refused to give him face time, he began writing love letters, but those grow tiresome, and women like Elsa don’t do boredom. So the subject of love was prohibited. The result is literature—driven by love, powered by anguish, delivered with frustration, about everything except what it is really about.

My few forays into matchmaking should teach me to stay away, but I’d love to set up Shklovsky and Kraf. Alas, it’s impossible. But at least they can get together on the same press. In the vast sea of misfortune that is modern day publishing, it is lucky that we have Dalkey Archive.

More from A Year in Reading 2014

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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was born in Odessa in 1985 and immigrated to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn at age 7. She holds an MFA from Columbia University. She is the author of Panic in a Suitcase, recipient of a Posen Fellowship in Fiction for emerging Jewish writers, and her writing has appeared in n+1, The New Republic, Electric Literature, Tablet, Triple Canopy, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.

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