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.

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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 !!

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

Gnedich by Maria Rybakova

Gnedich

Gnedich by Maria Rybakova

Russian Fiction

Original title – Гнедич

Translator – Elena Dimov

Well time has flown I was off work last week and had hoped to post a few post but I was so busy , I didn’t get chance any way it is now August and I still have a few Spanish reads to do over the next few days but today is the first day of  Woman in translation month and it seems fitting to start with a great find in a way. I was contacted by Glasgoslav books thanks to my friend Lisa at Anzlitlovers point them in my direction and one of the recent books is this unusual book by the Russian writer Maria Rybakova , who has written a number of novels which have n=been translated into a number of languages , but this is her first book to be translated to English, It was shortlisted for the Andrei Bely prize. Maria Rybakova is from a family of writers her grandfather and both her parents are writers he mother Natalie is editor of Banner a respect lit magazine in Russia

Homer says : youth is alway frightening ,

and the memory of it is the most dreadful or all.

Sing,goddess, it is your amusement

to sing our sorrows, our pain is your glory,

but when you come to me

pretending to be an ac tress

I will agree to suffer, said Gnedich,

and loooked in the mirror with one eye.

In the dark hole of glass he saw

either the cyclops or the hero lover,

then Homer, then suddenly no one really,

just fuinture and the sickly candle

The loss of  his eye draws comparison with Homer world and words for Gnedich

Gnedich is the name of a Translator in the 19th century Russia. He was the first man to translate Iliad by Homer from Russian into English. The book is told in the style of Homers work in twelve songs or Cantos about Nikolai Gnedich’s own life. From his childhood where he had smallpox that leaves mark on the young man who drives him to a become a librarian but also to books, to him discovering Homer and reading him to deciding that his lifetime task was to work on the Iliad  to bring it to a wider audience .All this at a back drop of when Russia as a country was at its height Imperial Russia is brought to life in Homeresque style as we see how one mans quest for the perfect Iliad is his own life’s work. From his own life his best friend also a poet .

Of course , he wanted

the girls to love him,

but they smelted of sweat and they cackler,

showing their blackened teeth,

and Gnedich decided to wait

until Moscow or Petersberg,

where goddesses would walk

in beautiful dresses: they would be the ones to love him,

but the later it appeared they also were afraid

to look at him

and Gnedich decided to wait a little more-

til his death

Sad he like the girls but they don’t like him thus driving more to his book and the work to translate it .

I said this was a unsual work and a perfect example of what we should all be trying to both read and promote during  Woman in Translation month. A work by a female writer, but also a work that you would only find from a small press. Who else would bring a short novel in poetic verse in the style of Homer from Russian and that is no one. It is also a tale of the art and passion of Translators the unsung heroes of world lit that like Gnedich bring the great works to readers in whatever language. The power of the written word to drive one man to transform it into his own language is shown here .  So my journey through some female writers in translation has started in Russia and we will next move west to Romania .

Have you a favourite Novel in Verse ?

Conquered city by Victor Serge

conquered-city-victor-serge-paperback-cover-art

Conquered city by Victor Serge

Russian Fiction

Translator – Richard Greenman

Original title – Ville Conquise

Source – Library

Well I  have been wanting to try Victor  Serge for a long time after reading a few review of his NYRB reissues , then I check my library catalogue and saw they had a 1970’s copy of Conquered city So clicked the button to get it sent up from Derby  .Victor Serge is a Russian writer ,Born in Belgium and wrote in French  ,he became involved with Marxism and Socialism around the time of the Russian revolution he support the anarchists during the revolution ,he was in Petrograd at this time 1919 .This is the setting for this novel .Post revolution he start to become critical of the Stalin and the regime .Serge’s real  life reads like a grand Novel. I love  at some point to read a bio of him one day ,He reminds me of other great writers of Russia that followed him Grossman and Solzhennitsym that have also question the regime .Although 80 years old this book still feels very modern .

The long nights seemed reluctant to abandon the city .For a few hours each day a gray light of dawn or dusk filtered through the dirty white cloud ceiling and spread over things like the dim reflection of a distant glacier .Even snow ,which continued to fall ,lacked brightness .This white silent shroud stretched out to infinity in time and space .

setting the scene in the opening lines of Conquered city

 

So Conquered city follows what happened in St petersberg ,Petorgrad or Leningrad as the city has been known in the 20th century this is the story of the revolution in that city ,as I said before Serge was in the city at the time of the revolution so although this is a novel it has a feel of almost reportage at times .So we get glimpse the main character of this book is the city and the people who  lived in it during the revolution and afterwards  (well that is hard to say because for a lot of the people it wasn’t living as such ) .We see how well-meaning people with Ideals get easily drawn into doing the wrong things in the white heat of war .We also see Serge question the reason for the revolution and also who really won the war and what happen due to this .

“I can do without everything ” comrade Zverena would say ,in the full voice of unction “except flowers ,don’t laugh at me ” she would add ,”I have had such a sad life !”

One of the comrades with ideals ,but do they last long !

This novel is hard to describe because it breaks the bounds of what a novel is more of a non fiction feel  to it at times we get a glimpse of people and action almost like a collection of piece written at the time and put together at a later date  .There  is a lot of rhetoric in the book as well , given this book was written in 1932 ,when it was obvious Serge is  looking back at the time of the revolution  ,but also what happen to the city since that time under Lenin the Stalin took charge of Russia has change his view of what he was fighting for at the time but also what his comrades where fighting for as well .Bleak is his outlook this isn’t a book the sings the glories of the Russian revolution no this is a book that lifts the lid of revolutions and what happens in them ,timely was my reading of this book ,given recent events in Egypt how strange it is you change the names and the settings and the story could be the same almost at times .

Have you read Serge ,if so what would you say to read next ?

Has he had a good Biography written ?

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

An armenian sketchbook

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

Russian Non fiction

Translator – Robert and Elizabeth Chandler

Original title – Dobro Vam

Source – Review Copy

Pleased to get this from Maclehose , as I’ve dabbled with life and fate  but never got far  into it and sat  finished the book .So this was the first full book I have  read by him .Vasily was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine ,he reported during world war two  this formed many of the views that he put in his great Novel Life and fate , he was a respect  journalist as well as a novelist .He sadly died four years after the journey he took in this book .

In October 1960 Grossman had submitted the manuscript of Life and fate to the editors of a soviet Literary Journal ,It was the height of the Khuschev’s “thaw” and Grossman seems genuinely to have believed that lif and fate could be published in the Soviet Union ,even though a central theme of the novel is that Nazism and Stalinism are mirror images of each other .

Just before he went to Armenian from the intro to the book

An Armenian notebook follows a Journey Vasily Grossman took during 1960 ,he was out of favour in a way his famous now book Life and Fate had been stopped by the soviets .So he had decided to take a chance and work on an epic Armenian novel that required a  better translation .So he head to Armenian ,one of the thrills in getting this is my own Knowledge of the region is very scant .So Grossmans simple clear prose brought to life this remote stone cover land and it quite unique people ,as we follow his travels .So we get to see each person he meets in little sketches about them and their life gently build a wonderful picture of the folks he meets .Armenian is a place that is caught between Asia ,Europe ,Russia and the persian world ,this leads to a very interesting mix of people .Vasily him self wasn’t in the best of health when he wrote this but still managed to inject a good deal of humour to his words .He is also fair in his observations,the  fact is  he has that great Journalistic skill of good journalistic writing in not being biased the best writing of place leaves it to the reader to make their minds up and this he does well here ,it would have been easy for Grossman to have made this book seemed very anti soviet to make this place seem as thou it was an out laying region with out anything good from Communism but it didn’t. He also made me want to read the book he was translating ,I never read a book from Armenian so if any one knows if it is available in English let me know .

A second day passed ,and a third .The new arrival ceased to think of himself as an exotic parrot in the mountain village .Now the people he met were beginning to greet him .And he was greeting them back .

He already knew many people : the young women from the post office ,the man at the village shop ; the night watchman – a melancholy man with a rifle ,two shepherds ,the old man who looked after the thousand-year old walls of the Kecharis monastery

Grossman is drawn into a remote villages life

So what did I discover ,well a writer of Non fiction I love Grossman is such a beautiful and clear prose writer it is hard not to fall in love with his words and use of words .,He manages to catch the place as a whole the people ,nature ,building and even the feel in the air (if you know what I mean I always feel every place you go to have a spirit about it something in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on ,this he manages to capture ).The sadness of Armenian he talks about the link the Armenian feels of the horrific event in 1916 and the Jewish massacre during world war two .  My favourite parts where around his village to a remote Mountain Village ,as all follows of this blog will know I have a great love of villages  as they say so much more about people than big cities do .

Have you read this book ?

Brief loves that live forever by Andreï Makine

Brief loves that live forever

Brief loves that live forever byAndreï Makine

Russian fiction

Original title  Le Livre des brèves amours éternelles,

Translator Geoffrey Strachan

Source Review copy

I ve reviewed Maikne before on the blog twice before the life of an unknown man and Human love  ,so have said a lot about the siberian born russian that has made his home in France and now writes in French .He is also now being published by Maclehose press for the first time .So this is his latest collection I m not sure if its a Novel or a interlocking collection of stories my self .

All young lovers travel this road and all ,in their alarm ,have only one soloution :to put pressure on the limits our poor human bodies impose on us .We doubled the violence of embraces,seeking now the complicty of the sea at night ,now the solitude of water falls in the forest.

Love in the soviet era is grasped at for all it is worth

So as you see on  the cover art, you sense what this book is  about  before you  read this book well the  picture gave me a sense of something being  a  tale of past like the birds that fly away every year but are remembered .This book is at heart russian and about loss and love ,but also moments in life .The life in collection is that of Dimitri Ress ,now on his way out of life .But through these eight chapters / stories ,we glimpse the love in harsh times ,what love is how we view love from a child through growing to becoming an adult .All this is set against a backdrop of 60’s and 70’s Russia .We see the child in an orphanage ,via an older man who has come to see them able to touch the very beginning of communism as this man had met Lenin ,through a holiday affair ,a women visiting a grave in France ,the Afghan war Ress gets injured .The dark grim times I remember of Brezhnev  we saw in the west those news reports of what seemed a very grim place ,here don’t seem so grim at times and shows as ever love can win through rather like Nadas in Parallel stories love and sex or even the whiff of sex is all that remains given communism .The start of the book also remind me of the start of life of an unknown man as it is two men meeting and one telling his life to the other .The women he meets and loves and how he remembers them remind me at times of the lines from the film city slicker where Jack Palance talks about a women he saw but never meet and just the fact that he could she her outline against the sun ,this is how Ress remembers not the whole just the feel of the women .

At the time of our meeting almost thirty years ago ,these were the solemm word I believed were needed to sum up Dimtri Ress’s life:a revolt against a world in which hatred is the rule and love a strange anomaly .And the failure of God whose creation man is called upon to set to rights …

Near the end his friend sums up the man .

Well I love Makine  ,his books always strike a chord with me and this book has the classic hooks of his writing they are soviet russia ,love as in this case not always working out ,the struggle for a better life .Though he lives in France and has as I said before has written other books under an alias that made the French press think there was a new French talent but no it was Makine ,where as his own writing is distinctively Russian ,with a real sense of longing and asking ,but I do always sense hope in his works and ok it doesn’t always work out .I’m not sure how you describe the book a novel or episodic novel but it lingers with you after you’ve put the book down remember like a collection of old sepia photos you’ve just pulled from under your bed and gone through and tell some one Ress memories some how drift into your own .Just wonderful .

Have you read Makine ?

 

The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyacheslav Pyetsukh

Source- Review copy

Translator – Krystyna Anna Steiger

Vyacheslav Pyetsuka is a Russian writer ,he is a trained historian ,he taught  russian and world history until the avant grade nature of his fiction lead to him losing his job ,he has since published numerous books in Russia ,and has had a number of his short stories translated ,notably in the new russian writing collection from Penguin .This book came out in Russia in 1989 and is new from Twisted spoon the czech based publisher .

The novel is set over course of a weekend and we follow it from friday to monday as the members of a collective household in Moscow gather and discuss what happened to the old women that had a flat in the building and who will get the space that is now free she isn’t there any more this book has echo’s of crime and punishment by Dostoyevsky ,like that book there is a large cast of people involved in the story telling process fourteen in all .The book is like a russian doll it becomes more and more as we move along we find out that the disappearance of  Alexandra Sergeyevena Pumpianskaya (don’t you just love that name ) may have more too it than first thought ,hence the echo to C&P was this a murder ,well we never know this isn’t a crime book it is a book about russian life ,art and philosophy as the tenants talk we see the previous hundred year of russian life and art mention in snippets .

Though it may seem speculative at first if not futile, investigating the relationship between life and what we call literature would be useful at this point .The relationship in question is extremely abtrusive undertaking, but is tempting  to try nonetheless .First it’s tempting to ascertain to what degree literature is a game and to what a book of fates , a textbook of life .

The opening of the second part “saturday”

Now this book is a must for any Russian lit fan ,as follows of this blog know I m russian lit light my self  but slowly working on this ,so I found this a book that sent me rushing to google at times to find out about this and that as I went a long ,so it gave me more of a passion to discover more russian Literature old and new and any book that makes you do that is always worth picking up .I think the other echo with C&P is the time when C&P was written Russia was a land of uncertain futures and this book in 1989 is the same this is just the time the new age of russia was happening .We also see how important space and station can be in a large city as the people in the building argue over this vacant space .all this and a lengthy discourse between two of them on the nature of what is evil .I must say the translator Krystyna Anna Steiger ,has manage to keep together what is a complex and mutlilayered book ,still hugely readable in English .

Have you a favourite new russian writer ?

The Possessed by Elif Batuamn

Source – review copy

Elif Batuman is a new york born writer ,her parents are turkish ,she studied literature at university in american and the a summer in Uzbekistan ,which forms the largest part of this book .she has published pieces for various magazines in the US .

Now this book is about obsession with russian literature and how it drives people ,now here is a shock I m very afraid of classic russian literature and have spent most of my life avoiding it ,but in recent times the realization is that I ve missed out on a lot ,so when the offer to read this book came I jumped at the chance to do so .Hoping it would inspire me to read more russian lit .The book is a collection of short essay and a longer piece divide into three sections .The short piece focus on obsession with certain russian writers ,the first is Babel the writer who was killed by Stalin leaving little behind but what he left behind has had scholars talking since his death ,a visit to an exhibition of his possessions in california sparks a journey into his world with the joy of Elif who obviously loves these characters so much ,another dealt with a group visiting Yasnaya Polyana Tolstoy’s home ,a group of  Tolstoy scholars and the wild fantasies about the writer was this book influenced by that book ,Alice in wonderland was the book they were arguing and did it influence anne Karenina ,This started a heated debate ,Elif tells this with humour and love .The main piece is about here summer in Uzbekistan studying Uzbek language ,as a former soviet state she discovers a lot about their intertwine history with its larger neighbour by a charismatic young Man called  Muratbek .

Muratbek was very tan with bleached hair and a fixed grin .To his every utterance in every language ,he appended the exclamation “awesome !” “Turkcha gapirasizmi ” he asked me. Do you speak Turkish ? awesome !

The first meeting in summer in Samarkand of Muratbek .

So did the book do what I want yes I ve moved russian books up my tbr pile and need get war and peace back on track ,this tied in with the recent BBC show about Tolstoy where they were at Yasnaya Polyana  ,this tied together brought Elif book more to life .So if you love russian lit this is a must read ,if your like me a novice this will inspire you to take that road that involves Pushkin ,Tolstoy ,Chekov and Babel ,vis her humour and love of these writers .I love Granta’s cover a retroesque homage to leather-bound covers the orginal russian books we re published in .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like russian literature ?


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