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The Faculty of Useless Knowledge Paperback – October 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press (October 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860463436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860463433
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,737,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This first English translation of Yury Dombrovsky's massive, important novel, first published in Russian in 1978, reveals another master of the Stalinist era who can stand alongside Solzhenitsyn and Bulgakov. Dombrovsky's tale of an exiled intellectual who, in the far province of Alma-Ata, becomes an archeologist and is arrested and interrogated by a Stalinist prosecutor (who will later himself become a target of the Great Terror), is largely autobiographical. It is also vivid and courageous fiction, bringing to life a host of stunning characters including a young archeologist, an ex-priest obsessed with Christ's betrayal in the Gospels, and an eccentric street artist with a penchant for outlandish attire and evocative, illogical paintings. The Faculty of Useless Knowledge is the crowning achievement by the author of The Keeper of Antiquities and The Dark Lady, and it will take its place among the masterworks of anti-totalitarian literature. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing from personal experiences during his own sentencing and exile, Dombrovsky writes passionately and often humorously about the terrifying Soviet judicial system. Fear and chaos pervaded the lives of Russians in 1937, the height of Stalin's purges. During this time, Zybin, an archeologist in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, is wrongly accused of a crime and then forced through the labyrinthine prison system, in which the bureaucratic investigations are even more grueling than the physical punishment he endures. Meanwhile, all those who know him, including his young assistant, Kornilov (many of these characters were introduced in Dombrovsky's The Keeper of Antiquities, his only other novel translated into English), are subjected to long interrogations in which every word can be twisted to incriminate Zybin or even themselves. Theological arguments about justice weave their way throughout the novel, and, as in Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita, these discussions focus primarily on the person most active during Christ's trial?Pontius Pilate. Dombrovsky argues that Pilate was a weak governor, a mere bureaucrat who constantly feared for his position. The interrogators and prosecutors of the novel are allegorical Pilates. The young and frightened Kornilov breaks down and betrays Zybin, who, unlike Christ, is not willing to acquiesce to the system as it stands. Wonderfully written and darkly witty, Dombrovsky's novel, first published in Russia in 1978, draws us into the surreal world of Stalin's Soviet Union.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hartwell (chartwel@hiid.harvard.edu) on May 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
An unbelievable work that makes up in prose what it lacks in originality. While the plot line is clearly delineated from the beginning, Dombrovsky's poetic writing and clever juxtaposition make this one of my top novels of all time. It's got the same futility of Kafka written in the style of The Brothers Karamazov. If you haven't read any historical literature, or do not know much about the Great Terror, this is the novel to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
No, the beautiful marriage of the philosophical with the literary characterized by the Russian novel in such giants as Dostoevsky and Gogol didn't disappear in the twentieth century, it was only repressed. This important book stands to finally take its place alongside other contemporary Soviet writers in a deep, thought provoking proof that art really does conquer all. Lovers of profound literature need not fear since, as Bulgakov pointed out, Manuscripts Never Burn. But passion and the human spirit always will in the face of all tyranny, and nothing illustrates this more fully and with such beautiful defiance as The Faculty Of Useless Knowledge.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jane k. johnson on May 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
Do not be put off by the length-530 pages; it is as exciting from the first chapter to the last- a book that is hard to put down.... This book contains actual events from the author's life and many of the people are real. Yet it is more; the battle between soviet expediency and humanistic values, the nature of justice, a romantic tale (Dombrovsky marries the real Klara), a re-telling of Christ's passion, a description of the terror and a ripping good detective thriller.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
The narrative tends to shift unexpectedly to flashbacks, but it is a deep look into an era of repression and destruction of integrity. Quintessential reading for all of us.
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