Life as a Literary Device

A Memoir of survival

Vitali Vitaliev is used to journeys and in this book he takes us as a companion on a journey of time and space- dozens of countries over two decades- and a journey of the mind. He is a great companion. By turns wry, tragic, and laugh-out-loud funny, in the end he delivers a tour-de-force of warmth and humanity. The stream of consciouness structure creates links between places and people- Tasmania and Clive James, London and Peter Ustinov- that scintilate with wit and wisdom. He meets his triumphs and disasters and eventually treats those two imposters just the same. Moving in a zig-zag across the globe from his native city of Kharkiv in Ukraine to Folkestone, Melbourne, the Falkland Islands, The fall of the twin towers on New York, Mount Athos, Edinburgh, Siberia, Ireland, a luxury round-the-world trip, Tasmania and on to the eccentric Letchworth Garden City, where he now lives, he always returns to his beloved London. The contrast of Ely Place- physically London, but for a long time legally Cambridgeshire- is where he espies his own identity: a Russian from Ukraine, of Jewish heritage with an Australian and now a British passport. All the time he links the experiences he gains with the books that continue to inspire him. In the end, the book and life itself overlap or blur. The cornucopia of literary riches include reflections on Valentin Kataev, whose “Mauvist” ideas blurring literature and life inspired the very structure of this book; on Simon Grey’s “The Smoking Diaries”; on Chekhov and his clothes, on arranging to meet Joseph Heller- author of Catch 22- the day he died; his visit to the House of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn- all these amuse-bouches are little jewels offered by a true literary connoisseur. From huge wealth and fame he slowly loses everything- marriage, job, health and even his beloved children- ending in a squalid corner of Folkestone. Yet this is not the end: he emerges reborn after an operation to fix his serious heart condition reflecting that he is indeed a “very lucky boy”. He determines to share his fortune with us in a series of survival tips- the survival tips of a writer facing the challenges of life and overcoming them. This is the best book that Vitali has written so far and is a rich and warm expression of his carefully gathered literary maturity. It may have claim to be considered as one of most important books of the decade- it is certainly one of the most charming. J.B. Oates