Berlin's fauna of Russian immigrants


Zoo. Pisma ne o liubvi ili tretia Eloiza

[Zoo. Letters Not About Love or the Third Eloise]

Publication: Gelikon, Berlin, 1923.

SHKLOVSKII, Viktor and El LISITSKII [LISSITZKY] (artist), Zoo. Pisma ne o liubvi ili tretia Eloiza

Cover design by El Lissitzky for this depiction of the Russian emigration in Berlin in the Golden Twenties.

The preferred first edition, rarer than the Russian one published shortly afterwards.

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Our Notes & References

First edition of this depiction of the Russian emigration in Berlin in the Golden Twenties – with a famous cover designed by Lissitzky, and some lovely examples of fine book design.

One of the key figures of Russian Formalism, the writer and literary critic Viktor Shklovskii (1893-1984), fearing arrest for opposing the bolsheviks, fled Russia in March 1922. He settled in Berlin where he lived at the “Zoo” [zoological garden] metro station, together with many of his fellow compatriots: this is the life he described in ‘Zoo’, portraying his friends-writers and artists as representatives of a certain kind of fauna, unaccustomed to life in Europe. Each letter’s title is often an anecdotic story itself, such as the “Letter Five, which contains a description of Aleksei Mikhailovich Remizov, and his way of carrying water to the fourth floor in bottles. It also describes the life and manners of the great monkey order” (our translation).

In Berlin, Shklovskii was unrequitedly in love with the writer and translator Elsa Triolet, sister of Lilia Brik and the future wife of Louis Aragon. He dedicated the novel to her (adding to the title “the Third Eloise”) and based it on a partly fictional, partly real correspondence with Triolet.

At the end of the novel, Schlovskii comes to the conclusion that he cannot live in Berlin anymore and addresses the last, twenty-third letter, to the Soviet authorities with a request to be allowed to return to Russia. On the efforts of the writer Maksim Gorkii and poet Vladimir Maiakovskii, Shklovskii was able to return to his homeland. In 1924, he published the second edition of Zoo. Pisma ne o liubvi (without mentioning Eloise) in Leningrad at Atenei publishing house, keeping a similar cover design. This second edition, more common than the first, is often confused with the original one.

‘Zoo”s cover is designed by the leading Russian and Jewish avant-garde artist and architect El Lissitzky (Lazar Markovich Lissitzkii (also Lisitskii), 1890-1941) who stayed in Berlin in 1921-26 on the Soviet mission to “establish links with German art unions on behalf of the advanced Soviet art ” (Strakhova).

Uncommon: we could trace three copies of this edition passing through auctions in the West and four copies (some in bad condition) in Russia.


Serge Samarine (Sergei Samarin).


Strakhova L., “El Lisitskii”, Govorit Moskva, Entsiklopediia Ruthenia.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo, complete.


Original publisher’s wrappers printed in red and black.


Wrappers a bit spotted and sunned, minimal tears; some light foxing internally, especially at beginning and end.

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