Summer in Baden-Baden

By Leonid Tsypkin



Five To-Be-Read Piles =

Add This One to Your To-Be-Read Pile!

Reviewer: Sage Webb


If you love literature as art, read Summer in Baden-Baden. If you love Russian literature, read it . . . and (of course) read it if you love (or even just like) Dostoyevsky. Leonid Tsypkin’s novel (available from New Directions, with translation by Roger and Angela Keys) offers its readers long (no, really: long), dreamy sentences that give the book something of a fantasia quality in places; it rings with love, inadequacy, wounds and scars, fear, hope, and failure. And the nostalgia at the end smacks of that winning sunset sweep at the close of Death in the Afternoon. (Papa did tell Arnold Gingrich of Esquire: “Am glad you liked the last chapter in the last book [Death in the Afternoon]—it is what the book is about . . . .” The end of Baden-Baden perhaps shares something like that truth, if it is indeed truth at the end of all that bullfighting.) It’s transcendent and disorienting.


Tsypkin (1926–1982) was born in Minsk to Russian-Jewish parents and practiced as a physician and medical researcher. He never saw his work published. It achieved no notice in the U.S.S.R., either officially or in samizdat. Maybe, as Susan Sontag suggested in her introduction to Baden-Baden, Tsypkin wrote “[f]or literature itself.” Just fifty-seven days before Tsypkin’s death in 1982 (two years after he finished the work), the American Russian-émigré weekly Novaya Gazeta began serializing the novel, after a Russian journalist friend of Tsypkin’s smuggled the manuscript out of the U.S.S.R. and brought it to the attention of the weekly.


The novel explores the lives of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife Anna Grigoryevna as they travel in Germany, blending this narrative with a first-person account of the narrator (Tsypkin) traveling to Leningrad/Petersburg in search of the great writer’s legacy. It delves into Dostoyevsky’s gambling issues, the volatility of the couple’s relationship, and Grigoryevna’s devotion to her husband. Touching on themes of xenophobia, trauma, masculinity, anti-Semitism, and the inexorable power of personal history, Tsypkin stiches everything together with original metaphors and creative (and ample) punctuation, his sentences running on for pages, creating a sometimes drumming, sometimes dreamlike, sometimes disorienting rhythm.


Turning the last page, a feeling arises that the book was just long enough. Too much longer and its unique structure might have swamped it. (One probably wouldn’t want every book one reads to flow like Baden-Baden.) But for the few days it takes to read of these roulette tables and pawned wedding rings, one can sink into this rhythm of that something truly different and truly beautiful.

Read Local, L.L.C., is a small (we hope to grow!) community of book lovers. We review books published by independent/university/small presses and post our reviews and thoughts in an effort to raise awareness of independent-press books. The Read Local, L.L.C., entity is owned by the parent company of Stoneman House Press, L.L.C., and that publisher's work appears on this website (we make money when Stoneman House sells books), but not everyone who writes content for us or participates in our community works for Stoneman House. Aside from Stoneman House, we also have relationships (personal and/or professional) with some of the authors whose books appear here. Some (like Sage Webb) write reviews for us and help lead us (and they make money when their books sell). We note when we have a relationship with a book, publisher, or author. Otherwise, we do not have relationships with the authors and publishers listed here. They appear here only because we liked their books and we like reviewing books. (We will be as transparent as possible when we post here about things in which we have a financial stake. Not just because of regulations like those in Part 255 of Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, but because we really are here just to have some literary fun.) If you are an author or publisher of a book that appears here, feel free to reach out to us! We'd love to hear from you. We are at And if you are an author or publisher and you would like us to remove your book from our site, just let us know. We are here to serve the literary community. If you have questions, reach out.

(We also love innovative art and photography. Just sayin'.)

© 2018, 2019 , 2020 Read Local, L.L.C.

(All content on this site belongs exclusively to Read Local, L.L.C. No one may copy any portion of this site or its content without express written permission.)

Read Local is a registered service mark with the USPTO.

Read Local, L.L.C., reserves all rights in and to its marks.