Books: The Comrade Who Couldn't

THE BEDBUG AND SELECTED POETRY 317 pp.)—Vladimir Mayakovsky—Meridian ($1.55).

Not every Russian who changes his shirt commits suicide, but Russian suicides cling to the superstition that a change of linen should precede death. On April 14, 1930 Poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky changed his shirt. Then he slipped a cartridge into his revolver and played Russian roulette. He lost. According to his friend Boris Pasternak, "the news rocked the telephones, blanketed faces with pallor ... [people] all the way up the staircase wept and pressed against each other." It was a blow from which Soviet literature has never quite recovered, for Mayakovsky was...

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