Dmitri Danilov

Opisanie goroda Description of a City
Novel. AST. Moscow 2012. 130 pages
Foreign rights: Macedonia, Netherlands

Twelve repeated visits to a city not too far from Moscow and with good rail connections. Your average industrial city with a slight Soviet patina, very few sightseeing attractions. People go shopping, stay in hotels, travel by bus, taxi, tram. But this Description of a city has nothing to do with sightseeing tours with the names, addresses, opening hours of museums, hotels, restaurants and the like. There is seemingly nothing special to see, to experience, to notice or to remark on in this city. It is precisely because Danilov is interested not in what is special but in the usual that this city became his choice. The city is walked, researched, described so that it becomes "flesh and blood" in the end, in the words of Danilov’s narrator. And this at two levels: the narrator in the midst and the reader faraway from the city that remains nameless. Both seem to switch roles in a bizarre mimicry. In the end, as the reader you no longer have the feeling of having accompanied the narrator on his walks through the city, it instead feels as though your own stroll through the city has been accompanied by the first person narrator. This description of a city teaches you to explore spaces and to rediscover yourself therein.
It could be any city in the world. Danilov’s city, however, has two levels because it is the home city of the author who accorded it cult status amongst Russian literature afficianados with the novel “City N." by Leonid Dobychin. The building where he lived – now disappeared. He himself – disappeard in March 1936, after his novel “City N." was torn apart by Stalinist critics. The theme of absence has three constants in Danilov’s city and book: silence, emptiness and greyness – little dialogue, few characters and the lack of action. And the more absence, the more that is missing, the more this city, this book gets under your skin.
On top of that, Danilov’s ironically enjoyable, at times hilarious and very down-to-earth attempt to feel at home in a strange place is also a real treat for those who prefer to explore cities on trams. Football fans don’t do too badly either.