The Funeral party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Funeral Party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

Russian fiction

Original title -Веселые похороны

Translator – Cathy Porter

Source – personal copy

when the Nobel was due a few weeks ago there were a few betting sites giving odds less than normal but as ever I marked a few of the names that I hadn’t read and haven’t  got books by and the Russian writer Ludmilla Ulitskaya was high on the list and has had a lot of books translated into English over the years. Her first novella was published in 1992 in Russian she has won the Russian booker and was up for the old Man booker prizes and has won awards around the world. She is known for not delving into the past of her characters but the present and moving forward with the situations they are in.

The heat was terrible, with one hundred percent humidity. It was as if the whole of this great city, with its inhuman buildings, its magical parks, its different coloured people and dogs, had reached the point od a phase transition and at any momentits semi-liquefied people would float up int the soupy atomsphere.

The shower was permanently occupied, with a que of people standing outside, For a long time they hadn’t bothered with clothes, although Valentina wore a bra to prevent her large breasts chafing in the heat; normally she never wore one. Everyone was dripping wet, the sweat failed to avaporate from their bodies, towels didn;t dry and hair had to be dried with Hair dryer.

The opening lines give a view of the heat that summer in New york in Alik’s  small apartment

The book follows the last days of a Russian Emigres Alik an artist as he is dying. Those gathered around him remember him and also in the background there is the Uprising in Moscow where tanks came into the city in 1991 as it is a red hot summer in New York. As his wire Nina a drinker but also religous wants him to come back into the church. He has done artworks around the last supper and is an agnostic but will agree if there is also a rabbi with the priest! Alik has fallen on hard times and his bills are being sorted by another of the women around his bed Irina she maybe shows how some Russian Emigres came to thrive in the US. She was an Acrobat and former lover of Alik but has become a reasonable succesful lawyer and pays her old friend’s bills. The woman he was meant to marry in the US Valentina is there a marriage that never happened. Maria an older woman a motherly figure that is trying to save him with her mix of old fashion herbal remedies. One few other men is Firma a Russian doctor reduce to a lab assistant as he isn’t able to pass his US medical exams. What we see is how each has interacted with this Artist that until now was the glue between these people and a vibrant man to be around. As they visit him this hot summer some of his old lady friends get too hot and a strip off this is all part of the comic side of this book.

Father victor arrived at about nine, without socks and in sandals, carrying an attache case and a bulging plastic bag. He was wearing a baggy hirt tucked into light, shortish trousers, and a baseball cap with the innocuous letters “N” and “Y” on it

He tyook off the cap as he came in and rested it on the crook of his arm, greeting everyone with a smile which wrinkled his short nose.

Because it was Saturday there was a large number of visitors: valentina, giola with the little grey dostoyevskt under her arm, Irina, Maika, Faika, Libin and his girlfriend, all the usual crowd. Also present were the Beginsky sisters, recently arrived from Washington

The crowd around his dying bed every day.especially at the weekend

This book captures the myriad of emigres experiences from the settle and succesful to those broken by coming to the US to follow there American dream Alik himself has seen both sides of this world since his arrival in America. He is a womans man given by the women around him in his last days his wife the woman that should have been his wife his ex-lover and the motherly figure all have deep connections to this man this is what Ludmila does so well in this book and that is build up the layers and connection in each characters life. There is a comic tone at times in this book it isn’t all doom and gloom in this small room as some of the women around strip off shocking some of his other visitors. Lisa reviewed this book a number of years ago, I said then I must get a copy I finally did and enjoyed it tis is a writer I will be reading again at some point Nobel win or not !!

 

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Redemption

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Russian Fiction

Original title – Iskuplenie

Translator – Andrew Bromfield

Source – personnel copy

 

I move further east after my Croatian return and to the Russian Library series of books I have been buying these the last year or so. I love the covers and they are bringing out a mixture of lost classics and modern classics. Here we see the exiled Russian writer Friedrich Gorenstein a Jewish writer whose father was arrested and Shot by Stalin. He worked as a screenwriter and novelist he is maybe best known as the screenwriter of Solaris the well known Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky. He finally left Russia in the late seventies and his books came out. The title of the book is redemption in English but atonement in German as the Russian word has meaning between the two words.

It was Sashaenka’s first ball. She had been reparing for it a long time, a whole week, since got her an invitation through the local special trade committee. Sashaenka had washed every day with a special war-trophy lotion brought at a stret market, wound curlers into her hair, rubbed eau de cologne into her skin and , for  the first time in her life, painted her lips in a little cupid’s bow and powdered her cheeks. And now there was Genral Batunuya’s son whispering something to his friends and glancing furtively at sashenka’s calves in their covering of cream lisle cotton. Sashaenka sttod in line, shwed her invitation,and reciever a present at a competitive market price.

THe Ball she tried hard to perfect fall but all wasn’t perfect fore her in this imperfect post war soviet world.

The books open in 1945 the war is over and the New year is happening and in the town of Berdichev, a town which is now  in  Ukraine Sashenka a sixteen year girl who has end up there when her father a pilot in the war died and her mother brought to this mainly Jewish town at the time. A young woman that has managed to avoid the Nazis and crippling illness to now as the war ends to start blooming into a woman. She runs off to a Ball but is shocked when a fellow guest at the ball points out the lice on her clothes and she blames her mother. But she hates the fact that her mother has a new lover she is trying to get her family by but the daughter doesn’t see this? She then decides to denounce her mother as a petty thief. Whilst at the same time she has a new man in tow. So when she meets a young Jewish Lieutenant August that has come home to bury his family she helps him find his family from the unmarked graves they are in to give them a decent burial. What will happen to her and her mother? and her relationship in this new post-war Soviet era!

“My mother” Sashenka wrote,”is a pilferer of Soviet property. I repudiate her and now wish to be only the daughter of my father , who died for the motherland …” Sashenka tried to forcefully, but the pen  splashed and scratched, and although the paper was lined, like in a school exercise book, the letters jumped about and the lines or writing either crept upward or curvred downward.Sashenka simply couldn’t think of what to write about Vasya,Olga, and the master of ceremonies, Shethought it would be a good thing to put something in about Batiunya, and Markeev, and Zara with her gold pendants, and in genral everyone who had laughed at Sashaenka and mocked her.

The aftermath of the ball she lashes out like many a ytoung woman at first with her mother , but could have been others!

This is a tough book that has the brutal nature of war at its heart from the loss of a father and the loss of parents in August case both due to the war. The daughter trying to come of age but also like most kids of the age she hates that her mother seems to have forgotten her dead heroic father. The story in the book echos part of his own story he was a boy who with his mother fled across to Uzbekistan. But she died mirroring the illness that Sashenka had. He also was brought by family to the town the book is sent in post-war so would have known the atmosphere he paints of hunting out those that helped the German in the war with neighbor turning on neighbor as the war years start to turn on each other as the dark daily world of the Soviet life starts to come clear in those early weeks of 1946 as the wounds are still raw. A powerful book and one that shows how good these Russian library choices are!

The Last Summer by Boris Pasternak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Summer by Boris Pasternak

Russian fiction

original title – Povest

Translator – George Reavey

Source – Personal copy

I love the lesser works of better-known writers, especially if like Pasternak they have won the Nobel prize. and this is a perfect example of that book Pasternak is known mainly known for Doctor Zhivago. His poetry is available. but this book and other novels by him are less available The last summer hasn’t had a new edition since 1990. Written in 1944 it seems a personal book as Pasternak was also based in the Ura in Perm l in a chemical factory like the main character in this book. He also taught a family in Moscow like Serezha the main character in the book.

At the beginging of 1916, Serezha came to stay with his sister, Natasha, in Solikmsk. For the [ast ten years the scattered fragments of this tale have kept coming into my mind, and in the early days of the revoloution some portions f it found their way into print.

But the reader had better forget about these earliest versions of he will become confused as to what the fate ultimately befell each character. I have changed the names of a number of these charactes; as to the fates themselves, I shall leave them as I had found them in those years in the snow under the trees; and there will be no difference of opnion between my novel in verso, spetrsky which I wrote at a later date, and this prose offering; the life in both of them is the same.

The opening shows how the main character is remember the times earlier !

The book was written in 1934 which may be meant the events he recounts in the book have been tinge by the years between the setting of the book. The book is set in 1916 in the middle of the Great War. We meet a tired man is on his way back to his family well his sister. On a long journey from the Urals homeward bound, he drifts into memories of the last summer he had before the war when the world around him seemed a different world the last summer before the war. He was working as a tutor to a rich Moscow family and the world seemed at his feet as he meets many writers and fell in love with the companion of his employer Mrs. Arid and discovered woman at night as he visited  Saskia a prostitute and other ladies of the night as he discovers his sexual side and a world that he seemed to be going forward. This isn’t a war novel there isn’t much mention of the war but it may be also is like holding a breath as it is just before the  Soviet regime took other which at the time Serezha is meant to be isn’t in foreground although there had been failed coups before that are mention the growing strikes that peppered Russian life in pre-revolution Russia.

The weather was stifling. Serezha, with the aid of a grammar, was refreshing his scant and neglected study of english. At dinner time, he and Harry used go upstairs to the ballroom where they kicked their heels while waiting for Mrs Frsteln to appear. Then they would follow her into the dining-room. Mrs Arild would arrive in the ballroom five to ten minutes before Mrs Fresteln; and Serezha would talk loudly with the Danish woman until the ladt of the house emerged znd then part from her with obvious regret.

His budding romance to the Lady’s companion is in fleeting momnets as these things where at the time.

This is a strange novel it has a certain dream-like feel throughput as the memories have sepia tones at times but there is also a strong feel of Pasternak look back from post-revolution times the book was written in 1934 which is just the time Pasternak and his friends really fell foul under Stalin regime. A close friend Mandelstam was arrested,  this lead to Pasternak getting a call from Stalin about his friend. But later laid the path for Pasternak troubles in his future writing. The is a touch of \bildungsroman about the summer in Moscow Serezha had spent. But also a feeling of Lost love which is something Pasternak was dealing with at the time as he had a romance with the daughter of the family he was brought in to teach Ida. A lost novella that needs reading it is short but feels like most great Novellas do as much more.

Have you a favorite lesser work of a great writer?

Rapture by Iliazd

Rapture

Rapture by Iliazd

Russia fiction

Original title – Voskhishchenie

Translator – Thomas J Kitson

Source personal copy

I’ve been admiring the Russian library series since they came out a couple of years ago they have such eye-catching cover and the books themselves as works of Russian literature are all very interesting. So I decided earlier this year to buy a few of them this was the first. Iliazd or Illa Zdanevich as he was known . A Georgian born Russian exile writer. His own life is as interesting as his novel is, He was an Exile in Paris a writer this was his second novel and came out in 1930. But he also an Avant-garde artist a to the likes of Picasso, Chagall, Miro, and Max Ernst. He has a number of solo exhibitions at the Pompidou and Museum of modern art after he died. There is a great intro to the book that describes him in late life living with thirty cats and in a huge sheepskin coat herding these cats as he took them out around Paris. There is a great intro I recommend reading it

So on account of her useless qualties, because of the mountains, and thanks to the back of beyond, Ivlita’s lot was becoming more complicated and confused, although thus far she herself suspected nothing. And for that reason, the girl’s exostence remained just as dull and even as ever nothing more than a reflection of the seasons.

Ivlita is considered useless but is a real beauty in Laurence’s eye a simple man himself.

This is a story of one man’s story that of a draft dodger Laurence. A man that has tried to avoid the draft by going on the run in the Highlands as he heads on the way he finds a beautiful woman Ivlita in a wooden house and decides to liberate her as he sees it. They end up in the cave in the mountains but over time he is drawn into a gang of revolutionaries that make him do increasing acts of violence like casting bombs. He is a man that has been caught by there dreams. But is it his battle of there battling he went on the run to escape violence and he worships the young now pregnant women he brought to the hills as he heads back to the city to get money and do the attacks but is he with the right women is he doing the right thing?

Laurence was wary of being rousted out during the night, since he couldn’t be certain the highlanders weren’t concealing beneath their courtesy a resolution to assault him, But he needed to sleep inordinately after blundering two whole days in the woods and drinking so much now; he was also taking account of the acute possibility that gendarmes would be searching the vicinity for him (while, as it happens, the townsfolk had swiftly headed home after the murder).The cretins stable, then, was an impregnable fortress.

Laurence finally arrives in the highlands but is still looking over his shoulders to see if he gets caught ?

This is an interesting novel. It is a simple adventure story in a way a man on the run falls for a woman is a classic adventure story line. His acts of robbery and terrorism and daring adventure have echoes of earlier books. For me, Buchan and those writers of early spy fiction from Conrad and Le Queux came to mind. Laurence is a sort of early anti-hero caught up in what is around him like Hanny in 39 steps. there is something of an old-fashioned tale there. But there is an undercurrent of a writer trying to experiment. Here dead characters returning almost a sense of that magical nature of the countryside a sort of early magic realism which is maybe a nod to his artistic world. Then there is the exile question of what the revolution brought. to a simple man like Laurence got caught up on the run but is lead into the frontline by others in the gang!! then there is also a sense of speed in the writing no full stops is something you as the story rolls like a juggernaut what will happen to Laurence in the end? An interesting book from a writer that was banned in the Soviet Union now finally in English after eighty years. I love the cover of this book and all in the series such an eye-catching design.

Have you read a Russian library book?

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Midnight in the Century

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Russian fiction

Original title –  S’il est minuit dans le siècle

Translator – Richard Greeman

Source – Personal copy

I left it to the last weekend to cover my last two NYRB fortnight reads. The first is the second book by Victor Serge I have covered on the blog I reviewed Conquered city a few years ago I went out and got a few more books from him. Serge had an interesting life growing up in an exiled family in Brussels at the turn of the century he was a firebrand and an anarchist in France in 1912 he was sentenced to five years and then expelled to Spain in 1917. He went to Russia in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks and after that worked in the communist Press service until in 1928 he fell foul of the government and then in 1933 was arrested by Stalin’s police and held for 80 days and the sent in exile in Orenburg a remote city in Russia. He left Russia after two years there.

Mikhail Ivanovich Kostrov, who was not at all superstitous, had a feeling that things were about to happen in his life, They were heralded by almost imperceptable signs. So it was for his arrest. There had been the perculiar tone of voice with which the rector had told him: “Mikhail Ivanovich, I’ve decided to suspend your course for the moment …. you’re up to the directory.* aren’t ypou ? ” Fear obviously, of allusions to the new political turn “So” the rector continued, “prepare me a very short  course on Greece”.

The start of the troubles and Exile for Kostrov when he is called in and arrested.

That two years in Exile is the backbone to this novel and is about a city of Exiles. Chenor also called Blackwaters is where these exiles all live. The place is a mix of Old Bolsheviks like Rhyzik and the narrator, young workers Rodion a man that has taught himself and a splattering of Orthodox church believers and all those that Stalin didn’t want are thrown into the melting pot that is Chenor. It is an insider view into what it was like in Stalin’s Russia as we find out how people got there the fear that everyone at the time lived under the hopelessness of being stuck in exile and no chance of escape. This is the burnt embers of those that shone brightly but were stubbed out by Stalin’s policies and violent regime. We see how Kostrov at the start of the book is sold out by a colleague that was the reason he ended up in Exile. The book sees one of them trying and succeeding in escaping the city.

The forest line grows darker at the horizon. A little over two centuries ago, peasants fleeing serfdom built this little town on the bluff overlooking the river bend. They thought they had gone far enough into the inclement North to be forgotten. They were only half right, but what could they do? however far you flee, your grandchildren will have to flee one day in their turn.

This captures the hopelessness of living in Chenor set up by those that fled serfdom has now trap those there two centuries later.

This is one of those books that draw you into the world he saw that of being an exile and also of living in everyday  Stalin Russia where no one is what the seems. The dreams of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution seems very far and distance in the Russia they are living in. I have read other accounts from the like of Arthur Koestler Darkness at noon (strange the title has a similar tone to the title of this book) also Solzhenitsyn wrote about the cruel nature of the Stalin regime. This is an Orwellian world from the start when our main character is sold out by a colleague at work. Serge is one of those writers that is able to turn his own experience no matter how dark and black they were into touching and heartfelt prose in this great translation.  This is another example of why over the last ten years of the blog I have slowly been buying NYRB books my only wish is they were easily available to buy locally I have brought a few in Sheffield but most I have to buy online. Have you read Serge.

 

A School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov

A School for Fools

A school for Fools by Sash Sokolov

Russian fiction

Original title – Школа для дураков

Translator – Alexander Boguslawski

Source – personnel copy

I’m a bit late joining in Lizzy Siddals NYRB fortnight. I have a lot of there books on my shelves and haven’t reviewed too many on the blog so I had hope get a few more read but I have managed this so far and part way in two other books. This is what we like about NYRB well I do they seem to republish books that may have not got put out again this came out to a seventies as it had been one of those books that when it came out in Russia was put around underground in Samizdat copies. Sasha Sokolov. Tried many times to escape Soviet Russia once via Iran he was caught and only family connection saved him from a long prison sentence. He then manages in 1975 to escape and eventually became a Canadian citizen. He has published another book that has only just been translated I have that on my tbr pile. This is considered a modernist masterpiece.

This is what the teacher Pavel was saying, standing on the shore of the Lethe. River water dripped from his washed ears, and the river itself flowed slowly past him and past us with all its fishes, flat bottom boats, ancient ssailboats, reflected clouds with those who are invisible and those who will drown, with frogs eggs, algae , relentless water striders, torn piece of net m grains of sand from the beloved seashore and golden braclets lost by someone, with empty cans and heavy hats of Monomakh

Surreal passages like this make me wonder if there was anopther level we miss in english in the original Russian but the richness of his words can be seen like treacle going slowly down your throat.

Now this is one of those books that you get to the end of and really need to start again , but this time around I haven’t time anyway the book starts with one narrator telling of his school the school of fools( a school for those disturbed kids)  of the title and his summers at a dacha cottage that many Russian do during the summer escaping the city. His romance or lack of it (yes it is one of those books that you are never quite sure what is real ) with Veta. Now that sounds enough but then we get a second narrator that seems to be another side of our first narrator telling is a more far-fetched tale. This other voice is almost a monologue at times. The action flips from summer to the school and at times is surreal things like a bizarre dress code from the headmaster of the school. As time and what is life drift and we see the world through our narrators disturbed views of the world a hard world at times and memories of summers and school days all get mixed as well as strange digressions here and there as the book goes on. It is like a memory of a drunken few years glimmers of lives mixed with the dreams of life.

But Veta dosen’t hear. During the night of your arrival in the land of the lonely Goatsucker, the thirty-year-old teacher at our school.Veta Arkadievna, the strict teacher of botany, biology, and anatomy, dances and drinks winer in the best restaurant in the city with soem young, yes, relatively young man – funny, mart, and generpus. Soon the music will end – drunken violinist and drummers, piano players and trumpeters will get off the stage.

Veta is someone he is in love with at times and other not during the book !!!

Now this is one of the oddest books I have read it is hard to get a handle on and is what we well I read translation for Sokolov himself is considered a master of the Russian language on par with the likes Of Joyce with English of Schmidt in German and those two are two I have picked as for me it has nods to the Schmidt novella I read a few years ago with detached and strange Narrators and the stream of consciosness style at times is a nod to Joyces style. It maybe is also a way of capturing the madness of Soviet Russia at times the two extremes of the world the summers at the Dacha and the school reflecting Soviet life at times. Also, the playful nature of the words sometimes reminds me of how Anthony Burgess used language the translator is a lifelong friend of Sokolov so kept some Russian words in the text. He also wrote the intro. A great first choice for my NYRB fortnight.

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Eleven Prague Corpses

 

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Russian fiction

Original title – 11 пражских трупов

Translator – Veronika Lakotova

Source – personnel copy

I was saying I was overwhelmed with reviews and what is annoying I am reading fast than I can review so I let books slip and this was nearly one of those. This book grabbed me with the description of Krill as a writer he is interested in the cultural history of Russia and the Czech Republic. He is one of the founds of Russian Psychogeography and one of his novels is a tribute to Flann O’Brien. Oh, and he is also called the Russian Borges (i do hate that but I can see it here as Borges like twisting the detective short story as well).

Maurice approached me at the fuenral. He said – stuttering as usual and as usual in broken English – ” An apprpriate way of dying for a former restaurant critc isn’t it ? Professional, so to speak. Acute Pancreatitis. Caused by what ? by the excepitonal Czech dumplings pork, and beer. Anf of course, by always exceptional czech doctors. Dammned Prague.” It started to drizzle, the heavy scent of the earht mixed with the smell of damp clothes.It was difficult to breathe. “Dammned Prague”I agreed.” Dammned Central Europe”

His dislike of his hime is shown here but also the inkling of the first death being more than it seemed.

The series of Stories in this collection is narrated by an unnamed narrator. Now I am never sure as it is one guy or a collection of guys all Russian that all have a strong dislike of the home Prague. So the eleven short stories all tell various stories of deaths in and around Prague and how are the narrator was connected to them. From the death of a restaurant critic to the death of a teacher our narrator at times is an obituary writer and seems to be there or hear about these events shortly after they happen from people involved in a High school massacre in the US turning up in Prague. He hates the city and sees it as too Kafkaesque at times the shadow of Kafka hanging over his world as the deaths keep plying up. But Like Holmes he has logic on his side and clearly cuts through each death.

The next day I rang the Private British school to nail down some of the details of the late Mr. Lengthy’s life. Of course, of course, Mr  Taborsky. Such a sad loss for us. Yes, yes, we’ve sent everything you’ll need for the opbituary. Nothing to add. A detail? A striking detail? Hmmm you might be interested – the russian students of our school called him”London Dandy”. Yes yes, in russian “dan-dee Long-dong-ski” You unerstand russian ? oh excellent . Mr Lenghty wasn’t a fop, no, don’t imagine that please, nuthe did dressin an impecable was, and he took special care of his hands. A little old fashion isn’t it?

I was remind of a watson description in a Holmes cases here of small characteristics of people.

This is an interesting take on the detective short that has lots of Nods to classic writers like Doyle and Christie, in particular, there is a sense of this in the use of a British restaurant critic and English master in two of the stories. There is also a sort of Russian distaste of Prague underlying the stories as well the feel of him not fitting into the city now. The sense of Kafka looming over the city. Prague itself is a character in this book rather like the London of Doyles Holmes of the Devon setting of Christie’s books. The Borges claim holds up as the books have that sense of twist styles and shift settings and using plots from other writers in new ways that Borges did so well in his own stories. The narrator has a pinch of Holmes, Poirot and for me a nod to those hard-boiled crime detectives of classic American Noir. There is a clear logical min there like Holmes a man out of place like Poirot the Belgian in England. But also a world-weariness of the classic American detective those that hate there beat at times that are drawn to the dark side of the city.

The Beauties essential stories by Anton Chekhov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauties essential stories by Anton Chekhov

Russian fiction

Translator- Nicolas Pasternak Slater

Source – review copy

I have read Chekhov before and my good friend Rob of rob around books has read and reviewed a lot of his stories.Chekhov is considered one of the first modern writers alongside Ibsen and Strindberg, he was a doctor by trade and wrote in his spare time in his short life of just 44 years he produced a number of works both short stories and Plays. He started writing to pay for his tuition. This is a new translation of thirteen of his stories by the nephew of the great Russian writer Boris Pasternak.

It was a moth-like beauty – the beauty that goes so well with a waltz, or darting accross a garden, or with laughter and merriment , and which has no buisness with serious thoughts, sorrow or repose.It seemed as if a good gust of wind blowing along the platform, or a sudden shower, would be enough to make that fragile body suddenly wilt, scattering its caoricious beauty like pollen from a flower.

“Ye-es…” sighed the officer. when the second bell sounded and we walked back to our carriage

One night on a platform a glimpse of a beauty on the platform.

There is a thirteen stories in this collection I will just describe a few of them here. The first the title story is a tale of beauty. It follows a man who is stopped for a few minutes at a station one night ,  when he glimpses a great Armenian beauty, which he had met many years earlier when they visit the girl’s grandfather. A day in the country follows a day in the life of a man Terenty , he is found by a little girl and he spends time with her and her brother both orphans we follow them through the day. Grief deals with a couple a drunk husband a loss of a son, a failing marriage  a wife who may actually also be dead. The husband laments how much his wife changed from the merry lass he married. The huntsman like the previous story I mention also deals with a couple this time a hunter Yegor now working for local landowner as a huntsman for him. They  meet one day on a country path his wife whom he hasn’t seemed for many years. She tries to persuade him to spend more time with her, but he has other ideas.

“It’s a long time since I saw you last, Yegor Vlasych..”says Pelageya, gazing tenderly at the huntsman’s shoulders as he moves.”Ever since Holy week, when you looked into our hut fr a minute and had a drink of water- we haven’t seen you since then.. Dropped in for a minute in Holy week, and God knows whay state you were in then.. drink and all … swore at me,beat me up, and walked out.. and I’ve been waiting and waiting.. worn my eyes out with watching for you … Oh, Yegor Vlasych, Yegor Vlasych! If only you’d come by some time

Husband and wife meet , a sad wife wants he even thou he beat her last time a sign of the times the bopok was written !!

I think most readers of this blog will know Chekhov.If not this new Pushkin collection edition would be a perfect place to start, I would think. I have read other translations of these stories, I like Pasternaks Slater use of words and he has done a great job keeping the wry humour of Chekhov also his sense of human nature. The collection has a good selection of his stories through out his career. I was touched by the beauties a story which is a bit like a story version of the you’re beautiful by James Blunt a glimpse of a beauty on a train platform echos with a memory of meeting another beauty years earlier. I also remembered the lines of Jack Palance in City slickers talking about his one love a woman he glimpse for a matter of moments earlier in his life has imprinted on his memory like the young man on the train in the beauties. A nice collection for any fan of Russian lit.

Christened with crosses by Eduard Kochergin

Christened With Crosses

Christened with crosses(notes taken on my knees)  by Eduard Kochergin

Russian memoir

Original title – Крещённые крестами: Записки на коленках

Translator – Simon Patterson with Nina Chordas

Source – review copy

I often bang on about the small publishers I work with but the reason is this they tend to bring us the titles we wouldn’t see otherwise. That said this was a bestseller the second time it came out in Russia Eduard  Stepanovich Kochergin was born at the height of Stalinism in 1937 and his parents were considered enemies of the state and he as a young boy was sent away to state orphanage for children of political prisoners. This book follows that time and his six-year journey across the heart of Russia from Siberia to Leningrad his hometown.

In the next two wards there was a medical section – one of the most terrifying places in the orphanage, in our language the croakery or kaputka. Few of the children who were taken there returned upstairs. This section was led by a nurse called Absolute Drip. Her assistant, a deaf mute nursing aide, a dirty animal whose stench killed flies, did not clean up, but simply spread filt around

One his arrival to Pipsqueak ward he talks about the other wards, scarry to say the least !!

The book starts with him at home with his family and his christening at a church on Nevsky prospect and also his polish mother and Russian father firstly he was given poles for safekeeping.But was eventually sent to the state house and out to Siberia. We see him on a ward with other young orphans where he meets some other boys with names like the Toad and his deputy screwface. This is a brutal place but seen through a child’s eye Eduard or Stepanych becomes the shadow in these place and disappears. Living only at night when they are alone he grows sadder missing his parents and home, which leads to the young boy setting off on a six-year journey on the trains. He meets thieves. Then stumbles into a village where they still have a tradition of brewing.Gets taught how to make a fire all the time slowly making his way back home but does he?

Food was the main topic of our life. The dreams of the orphans mainly revolved around food, especially in winter and spring. During that time, as our hobbling lady said, we were liable to eat everything that wasn’t nailed down. In summer we ate weeds, rising catching a colon infection and falling into the clutches of the Absolute Drip.

This short passage reminded me so much of Dickens in  particular Oliver when he is at the orpahage as well.

I read this last week as my father was actually in Vladivostok a place in the far east of Russia a place he said still had a feel of its Soviet past. This is tale of a boy become a man but also a tale of post-war Soviet times the toughness of  when Stalin sent so many to the Gulags, this is the flipside of a writer like Solzhenitsyn as it is about the children of those prisoners those young souls we never heard about the brutal nature of the state orphanage. Seen through his eye but in the same way as books; like the boy in the striped pyjamas or curious incident in the night we see how violence can be seen but not really absorbed till much later. There is also a sense of adventure as we follow his homeward journey a sense of entering a wide world and learning skills and about danger first hand. Also glimpsing a dying rural world of Russia hinterlands with rituals and myths still alive in the 1950’s. A powerful memoir of one man’s journey to adulthood in a Soviet world that could have stepped out of a Dickens novel but 100 years on.

 

The Buddha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov the 700th book review

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The Budha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov

Russian fiction

Original title – Vozvrashchenie Buddy

Translator – Bryan Karetnyk

Soure – library book

Well today I return back to Pushkin press fortnight with last but one of the books I read for the week I had two books by Gazdanov to choose from this and The spectre of Alexander Wolf , as the later is a personal copy  i decided to read the one from the library . Gaito Gazdanov , fought with the white guard in the civil war and after that he managed to flee to Paris where for many years he was part of the émigré lit scene there as well as being a taxi drive at night his work was well admired by Maxim Gorky . His first novel appeared in 1930 he wrote a number of books this was written in the late 1940’s . His works were never published in Russia in his lifetime .

I died . I have searched long and hard for the right words to describe what happened , and , convinced that none of the usual , familiar terms will do , have finally settled on one asscoiated with what seems the least imprecise of realms : death. I died in the month of June , at night, during one of my first yers abroad .This however, was far less remarkable than my being the only person to know of this death, the only one to have witnessed it.

The opening passage our student or is it , has he died or did he dream it ..

 

This is one of those odd crime novels that is more about the people involved in the story. The novel follows a student that is in a state of dreaming the world away , so much that he has trouble splitting his dream world from reality . Our story is told by someone who appears already dead as he describe falling of a cliff. A second body of a billionaire turns up and then we have a missing Buddha statue that is worth a small fortune that has disappeared . The statue owned by a russian that had been in the war and an Officer Pavel .,So did the other russian student kill the first man and what has the narrator to do with it is he the student , if so why does he talk about his own death !! . But is this maybe all part of the students dream we are never sure . This is full of classic noir touches and a large nip of existentialism .

 Then this calm man sank into total silence , which he did not break during the course of those three days that passed I awaited the next interrogation, at which – if i were to believe him – such incredible things were to occur.We were given food twice daily ; at first I was unable to eat it, as it was so disgusting.Only on the third day I managed to swallow a few spoonfuls of some clear-grey liquid and a crust of poorly baked bread .

Is it a breakthrough after three days or the fact the prison food is so bad he will be too weak to hold up to it again !

this is a quirky book , I had a sense and was right when I read it was originally published as a piecework in a russian magazine in the late forties . the novel has ups and downs like you do in the classic piecework where you are left on the edge for next weeks story . The is also a sense of entering a world of Kafka in a way a surreal world of a man being arrest for a crime , but this called all be that mans dream . Then we also have a fellow Russian that has come and become a buddhist and lose his Golden Buddha , which stuck me as a classic piece of setting for a noir story of the time , the Maltese falcon for example to turn the story into a caper somewhat . I liked this book it is quirky enough to suit my taste for crime which is books that take a sideways look on the whole  crime . This does it mixing Ex pats  , Noir Paris ,  two dead bodies  one a billionaire and oh yes a gold Buddha . Oh and a small point this is my 700th review on the blog !!

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