excerpt from Kangaroo

July 24, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

The following is an excerpt from KANGAROO, by Yuz Aleshkovsky. It’s from the very beginning, so it won’t spoil anything whatever. It reminded me of that part from SMILE AT THE FOOT OF A LADDER by Henry Miller, where August the clown falls off the ladder. Or of course, Meno’s Paradox. Which I guess points to my own fetish for dividing things into infinitely small parts. All you need to know, if even this, is that the main character is on his way to meet an official who will take him into custody. And, the book is written to Kolya, who is constantly addressed. I’m about halfway but I think it’s brilliant. Originally published in English in 1986, it’s put out by Dalkey Archive Press who continues to blow my mind with their publications.



by Yuz Aleshkovsky

I got rid of the old bag and hit the road again. Marching along in a farewell bid to freedom and liberty. Breathing in that good old carbon monoxcide. Sippin at a glass of seltzer. Smoking Herzogovina Flor, just like Big Brother up there in the Kremlin, who loves it so much. Checking out the chicks. Bye! So I mosey along, not wasting a second of the time I’ve got left, like I said, not even a fraction of those seconds. As I got nearer the Lubyanka I started to feel like that guy on Death Row who’d been given a crust and told it’s his last piece of bread on earth. This guy was a physicist–a sly old fox. He divided the crust into pieces, and the pieces into pellets, and the pellets into crumbs. The executioner’s begging him to finish.

“Hey, quicker, asshole. I should have settled your hash hours ago–it’s quitting time, for chrissake.”

But the guy says, “The law says I can chew my last crumb. Leave me alone, goddamn it, or I’ll call the public prosecutor. You got any water to go with this?”

So what could the executioner do? He brings him a mug of water. The guy pops a crumb in his mouth, rolls it around with his tongue, sucks it, smacks his lips, weeps with the pleasure of his hunger for life. THe executioner’s really steamed, he’s bitching about missing the Spartacus v. Army hockey game and how he has guests coming over from the Irkutsk jail. But the guy’s threatened no to sign his death warrent if he stops him from munching his bread and drinking his water. You know, not even Beria himself, in person, had the right to prevent ac ondemned man from consuming his food. He liked pretty rules, was what it was. For instance, before looking up a sek’s ass, the inspector had to say, “Excuse me, Citizen or Citizeness So-and-so.” Unfortunately, this rule doesn’t get observed too often in our country. In practice, they only used it for Tupolev, Korolyov, and Voznesensky, the chairman of State Planning.

Anyway, the executioner waits one hour, two, four–he’s threatening to shoot the guy some special way they only showed him at the continuing-education classes–he calls his authorities, but no way they’d give permission to shoot until the condemned man’s eaten his last crumb and swallowed the last drop of water. Finally, he doesn’t have a single crumb left. But get this, Kolya. This physicist announces, “Now I’ll start on the molecules, and then the atoms.” And he threatened the executioner again that he’d let the bosses know that the executioner had actually denied the existence of matter–that he’d objectively shown himself to be a Trojan horse of subjective idealism in our model topsecurity jail, by demonstrating criminal doubt about the officially recognized structure of the material world. The fucking executioner turned yellow and his eyes overflowed with green pus. He said to the guy, “Let’s see you gobble when there isn’t an atom left, you bastard. You’re as good as dead.”

So the guy says, “Then, with your permission, I’ll start on the electron, which is, in Lenin’s own words, practically inexhaustible. You may disagree, and then let’s see how the Ministry of State Security’s department of theoretical physics reacts to this kind of provocation. Looks like we have an entrenched case of obscurantism here,” he adds. “See how slyly it’s established itself and is shooting the most committed materialists in the head!”

You better believe it, Kolya, twenty hours went by like this. Twenty hours of life from 300 grams of stale bread and a mug of water! Then–zap–they commuted the condemned man’s sentence to twenty-five years and took him away to a “research institution.” Alive. And why? Because you should never be in too much of a hurry for anything.


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