One morning in 1949, Fan Fanych, alias Etcetera, is summoned from his Moscow apartment to KGB headquarters, where he is informed that he will be charged with a crime more heinous than any mere man could ever devise: “the vicious rape and murder of an aged kangaroo in the Moscow Zoo on a night between July 14, 1789 and January 9, 1905.”
Every moment in the nightmarish and hilarious account that follows lives up to the absurdity of this accusation. Along the way, Fanych runs into seductive KGB agent (who’s bent on convincing Fanych that he’s a kangaroo), a camp full of old Bolsheviks desperately trying to believe in ruined revolutionary hopes, Adolf Hitler, and all three parties at the Yalta Conference (which didn’t, as it turns out, go quite like we’ve been told). And all this phantasmagoria is faithful to reality, for—as Dostoevsky knew—it is impossible for realism to portray a society whose corruption is literally fantastic.
Iosif Efimovich “Yuz” Aleshkovsky (b. 1929) is a Russian novelist, poet, playwright, singer, and songwriter. He was drafted into the Soviet Navy in 1947 and served four years’ jail time for disciplinary infractions, after which he started writing children’s books and folksongs – one of which, “You’re a Great Scholar, Comrade Stalin,” attracted further attention from the authorities, and relegated Aleshkovksy largely to samizdat publication. He left Russia in 1979 for Austria and, subsequently, the United States, and was awarded the Pushkin Prize in 2002.