It just happened

The bulk of the fiction of Daniil Kharms (the pen name of Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov) was destined for his desk drawer. Though his work for children was widely published in the Soviet Union, his other efforts were unprintable, thanks to Stalin's iron rule. These tales have now been collected in Incidences, an admirable work, edited and cleanly translated by Neil Cornwell, that highlights Kharms's eerie obsessions: a fear of old women and children, a love of falling bodies and a sensual pleasure in the scents and sounds of daily life. With remarkable precision and fluid language, the stories capture everyday tension in a land where an innocent knock on the door might mean entrapment in a bureaucratic maze or even death at the hands of the military. By yoking official policy with personal ire, Kharms reveals how deeply his contemporaries absorbed and understood their domination. And by casting his tales within the realm of the absurd he lifts anxiety into art. The pity is that his life was as brief as his stories: he was only in his late 30's when he died in 1942, probably in a Leningrad prison.
[ERIK BURNS in The New York Times]

This wonderfully inventive collection of stories presents the writing of Kharms' absurdism at its vibrant, perplexing best. The book is composed of short miniatures: strange, funny, dream-like fragments – many of which the author called ‘incidents’ – that tend to feature accidents, falling, chance violence and sudden death.
An outlaw classic banned by Soviet censors until the 1980s, Incidences vividly conveys the precarious nature of life in Stalin’s Russia. Writing in the 1920s as one of a group called the Society for Real Art, Kharms was first arrested in 1931, and told that he could only publish writing for children. Irrepressible, he was sent to the Gulag in 1941 and died of starvation in a prison hospital a year later. With this new edition of Incidences we can rediscover a Russian writer whose bold writing and tragic death are an urgent reminder of the deranged spirit of his times.

Incidences, by Daniil Kharms SERPENT'S TAIL


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