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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a nonobjective treatise
...tick tick tick.....this is Turgenev's Fathers and Sons written after the modernist floodgates had been opened. My version of this has a Kandinsky on the cover and that is the perfect emblem to front this Russian avante garde revolution of a book. There is in it a live time bomb waiting to go off. It takes awhile to get used to Biely's unusual way with words(and I have...
Published on August 30, 2001 by Doug Anderson

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Huh?
I'll generally give any novel or collection of short stories fifty pages before I give up. In the case of Boris Nikolaevich Bugayev's (nom de plume: Andrey Biely) ST. PETERSBURG, I gave it two hundred -- and then abandoned ship. I just didn't get it.

Both John Cournos, who wrote the Introduction and did the Russian - English translation, and George Reavey,...
Published 8 months ago by R. Russell Bittner


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a nonobjective treatise, August 30, 2001
By 
Doug Anderson (Miami Beach, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
...tick tick tick.....this is Turgenev's Fathers and Sons written after the modernist floodgates had been opened. My version of this has a Kandinsky on the cover and that is the perfect emblem to front this Russian avante garde revolution of a book. There is in it a live time bomb waiting to go off. It takes awhile to get used to Biely's unusual way with words(and I have no idea if this is a translation thing or not) but once you catch his rhythms it is a great read. We live in a much more settled civilization than the one this author experienced and documents but if you like to read things that remind you that culture occasionally does undergo monumental shifts, this is one of those works. Not perfection to our postmodernist ears but strange music indeed. Boom.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific world literature -- don't miss it! (details), August 9, 2009
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
I own the Grove Press, 1959, hardcover edition of this book which I personally consider, in a word, magnificent. But I also wished to share my thoughts about Biely's superb novel here at the "softcover edition" site. This fictional account was artfully translated by John Cournos who also wrote an outstanding eight-page introduction to the book. Also included in this particular edition is an informative four-page foreword (essentially, an Andrey Biely mini-biography) by George Reavey.

Anyone who is remotely interested in first-class literature in general, or in top Russian novels in particular can hardly afford not to read Andrey Biely's (born Boris Bugayev) intriguing account of a wild two-day period in 1905 St. Petersburg. Of course this is a crucial era of Russia's history because late that year a devastating general worker strike coupled with revolutionary riots transpired in this Russian Capitol. The insurrection was eventually quashed by Tsar Nicholas II's military forces but the episode was clearly a prophetic warm-up for the brutal 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

The backdrop of 1905 St. Petersburg is notably integral to the story chiefly because it gives rise to the absolute credibility of sequential fictional incidents as they are related here. The St. Petersburg of this epoch flaunted a society, comprised of multiple divergent cultures and classes of people, most of whom were completely out of control. As Colin Wilson shrewdly asserted in his book Rasputin and the fall of the Romanovs: Colin Wilson. --, [paraphrasing here] "...all the men were intriguers and all the women were hysterical." And perhaps a more significant quotation from that same work explains the situation more precisely:

"...freedom is an inner condition, and it cannot co-exist with boredom and the devaluation of life. In this sense, the inhabitants of St. Petersburg were less free than at any time since Ivan the Terrible." (Page 112.)

Think of the antics found in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and amplify it to the tenth power -- that was Biely's St. Petersburg. And Biely has captured this ambiance and conveyed it so flawlessly that the astute reader is emotionally transported to that time and place.

At first the text seems a jumble to digest as one correspondingly encounters in either Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, or perhaps in INVISIBLE MAN By RALPH ELLISON 1952 MODERN LIBRARY. But this minor annoyance soon passes as the reader begins to assimilate Biely's compelling literary rhythm. The dialogues in this book were for me reminiscent of the anxious, vague, incoherent, and abbreviated mumblings between Nixon, Haldemann, and Colson during the Watergate cover-up; however, in real life, and when people discuss such sinister topics...

The central theme examines the relationship between an emotionally disturbed and elite young nobleman, Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov, and his aged father, Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, who happens to be one of the Tsar's tyrannical, high-ranking government ministers. Anarchists, Marxists, and all other manner of revolutionaries surreptitiously roam St. Petersburg's streets and prospects, all of them plotting to blow up the Tsar and his ministers to thereby seize control of the government. Nikolai flirts unabashedly with this idiosyncratic crowd of dissidents because he finds it exciting. But before he fully grasps the consequences of his multiple fraternal alliances, he becomes inadvertently involved in a bomb-type assassination plot... against his own father!

There are multiple enigmatic and engaging sub-plots, the most hilarious of which involves Nikolai going off half-cocked and startling his victims as "The Red Domino," a Petrushka-like character who dons a mask and bright red cape, thus both terrifying and entertaining the more privileged gossipy townsfolk. Ultimately, all the sub-plot characters become linked in one way or another in this outrageous patricidal conspiracy.

But the book additionally explores Nikolai's depraved mental tortures and nightmares where he often generates dichotomyan thoughts such as this: "Nikolai Apollonovich suddenly felt a surge of love for the old despot [his father], who was destined to be blown to bits."

In this instance I felt that I had unearthed an example of world literature at its finest. At least for me, this singular novel represents a found treasure. It's one of those exceptional books like E.L. Voynich's The gadfly. which one only seems to encounter by lucky chance. If I appear to have gone over the top with my review of this fine work it's simply because I'm enthusiastic that others might get the chance to share my joy in having read it. I personally consider it one of the top five novels of all time.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a touchstone of modernism, November 30, 2000
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
It was Vladimir Nabokov's opinion that this novel is "One of the four great masterpieces of twentieth-century prose," in company with The Metamorphosis, Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past. Andrey Bely (or Biely, I've found it spelled both ways) was the pen name of Boris Nikolayevich Bugayev. He was a leading figure of the Symbolist movement in pre-Revolutionary Russia and, in addition to Nabokov, influenced Boris Pasternak and Yevgeny Zamyatin, among others. St. Petersburg is certainly as innovative as the other works Nabokov ranks it with, using characters and even geography as allegorical symbols for ideas, and written in a nearly stream-of-consciousness prose. But to my very pleasant surprise, it is much more enjoyable than these other touchstones of Modernism.
The action of the novel, and happily there is some action, occurs over the course of two days in 1905, when Russia, having lost the War with Japan, was wracked by strikes, conspiracy, violence and near revolution. Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov is an elderly, but still devoted, Tsarist bureaucrat. His dilettantish son, Nikolai, who is dabbling in radical politics, has been given the task of murdering his own father; the chosen weapon, improbably enough, a bomb in a sardine tin. Just as the city of St. Petersburg--Peter the Great's "window on the West"--represents the point where the rational West meets the savage and mystical Orient, so this confrontation between father and son represents impending conflict between European reason and Asiatic barbarism, and the bomb itself represents the indiscriminately destructive forces about to be brought to bear on the decaying Tsarist state.
Though much of the story, inevitably in this type of modernist fiction, is obscure and barely coherent, the literally ticking time bomb gives the story a propulsive forward momentum which speeds the reader along and, though I'm certain I missed much of the symbolism, because the imagined clash between the main symbols proved eerily prophetic, we can read things into the story that Biely probably never intended. Biely's use of language and symbolism lends an almost feverish quality to the narrative, as if the whole thing were a particularly horrible dream. It is a story suffused with a sense of dread and with intimations of the chaos to come, both in the novel and in the society it depicts.
I don't know that it necessarily deserves quite the elevated position that Nabokov gave it, but it was apparently extremely influential on Russian Literature and it makes for an unusual but gratifying reading experience. You'll surely enjoy it more than you would the almost unreadable James Joyce and Marcel Proust.
GRADE : B
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Huh?, November 8, 2013
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
I'll generally give any novel or collection of short stories fifty pages before I give up. In the case of Boris Nikolaevich Bugayev's (nom de plume: Andrey Biely) ST. PETERSBURG, I gave it two hundred -- and then abandoned ship. I just didn't get it.

Both John Cournos, who wrote the Introduction and did the Russian - English translation, and George Reavey, who provided a Foreword, may rightly feel that Biely was an unrecognized genius. I don't dispute that. *I* just don't get him.

It could well have to do with my immediate reading environment: almost exclusively in the NYC subway system. But I do much of my reading on the subway - and do it to a good end. Unfortunately, this was not the case with ST. PETERSBURG. I found the plot line every bit as noisy and chaotic as the subway system itself.

Far be it from me to dissuade anyone with a serious interest in Russian literature from undertaking a read of ST. PETERSBURG and correcting, for him- or herself (and for any other potentially interested reader her at Amazon) my negative verdict. I'd prefer to think *I* just don't have the right stuff for Biely.

RRB
11/08/13
Brooklyn, NY
Trompe-l'oeil (or, The Old In and Out. Of Love.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Symbolist Novel, October 7, 2010
By 
James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
Andrei Biely takes Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman as the literary basis for this novel, creating a similar tension in the strikes of 1905 that Pushkin did with the 1824 flood in his famous poem. Here we see son pitted against father as a shadowy group of anarchists plot to kill Nikolai Apollonovich, a respected nobleman in Petersburg. At the same time the elder Apollonovich tries to come to terms with the distance that has grown between him and his son and the fractuous nature of a government seemingly in a death spiral. Bely is not content to play this story straight, taking a Symbolist approach to the novel that will probably vex many readers, but creates a marvelously passionate account of events, with numerous misunderstandings complicating situations.

What struck me about this novel, is how it not only forshadowed James Joyce crowning achievement, Ulysses, but that of the later "Post-Modernists," who seem really nothing more than latter day Symbolists, after reading this novel. Joyce would have had no access to this novel, so in no way did it influence his work, but Petersburg was translated by Cournos in 1959, which would have made it available to many of the leading post-modern writers. Biely draws on the works of Blake and Ciurlionis, among others, in creating this vibrant novel, that actually makes you experience colors and sensations, which Nabokov notes. Biely was great friends with Alexander Blok, and is mentioned in Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak once commented to Issiah Berlin "... of course Andrey Bely was a genius - Petersburg, Kotik Letaev are full of wonderful things - I know that, you need not tell me - but his influence was fatal."

It is great to see Biely finally getting his place in literary history and there is a new translation by John Ellsworth which goes further in capturing the colors and sensations of this novel than Cournos did. He has long been regarded as one of the greatest Russian authors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Re: the Cournos translation, February 13, 2014
By 
Steven Moore (Ann Arbor, MI USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
Be warned that Maguire and Malmstad, translators of the 1977 Indiana U.P. edition, say that the 1959 Cournos translation "bears only incidental resemblance to the original. Apart from gross misreadings, it makes numerous cuts, which eliminate, among other things, virtually the entire persona of the narrator, whose presence is essential to any real understanding of what Bely is up to" (p. xi). Sounds like you should avoid this one in favor of theirs or the recent Penguin edition. (The five stars is for Bely, not Cournos.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Its A Russian Novel, Sooo..., December 17, 2013
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This review is from: St. Petersburg (Hardcover)
Its long. Nabokov loved it. I found it pretty good myself. Many of the characters have Russian names, so it's hard to read out loud.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Want some sardines?, September 13, 2011
By 
Guillermo Maynez (Mexico, Distrito Federal Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov, the son of a very important officer of the Czarist government, is a disoriented junior, who has a very bad relationship with his father. The mother has left them for an Italian singer. Nikolai gets involved with anarchist movements and with people from the show business, including a dancer with whom he has an affair, and who is married to an Army officer. As proof of his loyalty to the revolutionary movement - this is 1905, the year of the Russian defeat against Japan and of the beginnings of the Russian Revolution - Nikolai is assigned a mission which consists of killing a high-ranking Czarist officer: his own father. The mission has the form of a bomb contained in a sardine tin, which Nikolai keeps in one of his desk's drawers. Anguished and desperate, Nikolai walks the city, dressed as a demon, trying to impress his lover, Sofya Likhutina (who has left him). His appearances cause terror and fascination, and the newspapers follow him. Meanwhile, the bomb's clock keeps ticking...

This is a very ambitious novel, excellently written, with plenty of symbolisms. The Ableukhovs have a Tartar origin, representing the eternal division of the Russian soul between East and West. The father hates revolutionaries and any disruptors of the established order, while Nikolai feels an attraction for anarchy and violence. Saint Petersburg, the city itself, is a main character in the novel, Peter the Great's "window to the West", just about to be conquered by the new barbarians, the Bolsheviks.

The book's style has been compared to Joyce's, but it is more direct, without ceasing to be a complex novel, with a rich language, stream of consciousness, flashbacks, digressions, journalistic pieces of news, introspective monologues and other resources. The atmosphere's unbearable tension (as the bomb's clock goes tick tack), gives it a great intensity, as well as the mix of terror and black humor characteristic of Russian literature, with its alienated, eccentric, and tormented characters. Much recommended.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best pre-revolutionary novels from Russia, April 13, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
This psychological thriller was way ahead of its time. The writer forsees the collapse of the old regime and the anarchy that will follow. Just simply one of the best novels of its type. I highly recommend it
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov's opinion, October 15, 1999
This review is from: St. Petersburg (Paperback)
10 15 99
According to a review in Smithsonian, March 1987, by Michael Dirda, Nabokov called Biely's St. Petersburg the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century.
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St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg by Andrei Biely (Paperback - January 25, 1994)
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