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Book Review: Summer in Baden-Baden, by Leonid Tsypkin
"I hope you are not well", is, allegedly, the greeting many of his musical friends used when meeting the chemist Alexander Borodin. It seems unlikely that a similar greeting would have been used by the literary friends of Leonid Tsypkin, whose day job was as a pathologist, as Susan Sontag explains in her introduction to this book that Tsypkin's manuscripts weren't shown to anyone except close family members and, perhaps, one or two other close friends. In fact, the manuscript for Summer in Baden-Baden was smuggled out of the USSR by an emigrating friend in 1981, and published just a week before Tsypkin's death in 1982.

The introduction by Susan Sontag is invaluable. Not only does she present a concise biography of the author, but also provides some context for his approach to Dostoyevsky, and in particular she draws attention to Tspkin's unusual prose style. Each paragraph contains only one sentence, sometimes running to several pages, punctuated by em-dashes and occasionally commas and other punctuation. Sometimes it seems as if, not being a General Practitioner, Tsypkin was unable to write illegible prescriptions, but as a medical man, he had to some other writing infliction to bring to the world.

Of the story itself, I had perhaps expected more of a travelogue, as Tsypkin makes a journey from Moscow to Leningrad, while describing in parallel the travels of Dostoyevsky and his second wife Anna Grigor'yevna across Europe in the summer of 1867. In fact it is less of a story, and more a series of pictures of a state of mind, describing Dostoyevsky's gambling and other compulsions. Tsypkin paints these pictures of paranoia, self-harm and suffering convincingly, Dostoyevsky's colourful life interspersed occasionally with stops on a rather drab 1970s train journey from Moscow to Leningrad. As he arrives in Leningrad, Tsypkin stays with an old family friend, adding colour to the contemporary story, and makes a pilgrimage to the house where Dostoyevsky died, one story coming to life as the other begins to fade away.
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