Archive for February, 2010


This group was a follow up to our group from a few months ago in which we discussed amongst the russians. It encouraged us to learn more about russia via bookgroup, so we went the short story route rather than the very long novel route.

Russian short stories from Pushkin to buida

That decision was a good one in many respects. It allowed us to sample many writers over a lengthy time period, in a range of styles, and as the book had a brief but very informative and insightful bio on each writer, learn a lot about modern russian history.

It did have one problem however. The group discussion was much less lengthy and detailed than usual because the very larger number of different stories made it hard to know where to begin or end in the conversation. It went something like this – a few brief comments on one story, a comment on another, can anyone remember any of the other stories, what about the one…. oh yeah i liked that…

i only mention this problem in order to explain why this review will appear even more personal than usual. the short story collection format seems to be a difficult one for bookgroups to base a discussion on, as a result, i dont know what other groupers thought of most of the stories.

what i can say is that people enjoyed the book as whole, though most didnt finish, and there were major differences between individuals on the question of favourite/least favourite story.

The book has the stories arranged by author and in chronological order, with a 2-4 page intro on each author giving brief details on the author’s life, writings and relationship to the revolution/communist party.

these intro’s were almost my favourite part. it was a brief history of modern russia, but it was a rich personal history because it was told via the biographies of these famous writers, so you could see how the big political story affected day to day lives.

many of the stories were great. i think you could read into them the history of 19-20th century european writing. the 19th century stuff was generally wordy and bucolic while the more recent included examples of the different styles found elsewhere – some hemingwayesque, some kafkaesque. Perhaps a little more burlesque would have suited my taste.

i particularly liked lalla’s interests by vera inber and the gentleman from san francisco by bunin and several of the stories by zoshchenko. The bathouse, the galosh and the hat by zoshchenko, along with the third son by platonov really seemed to me to get across an insiders view of soviet russian life, which i really valued experiencing. however, these preferences were not universal amongst bookgroupers.

one story called the monster by one of the only women authors in the book, zinovyeva-annibal, attracted a lot of attention, justifiably. it raised a lot of terrific moral, political and emotional questions by telling the simple story of a girl and jar of pond water, in a very insightful and clever way.

another story called quadraturin by krzhihanovsky (3 vowels in a 13 letter name?) also got a lot of grouper attention- maybe because it was based on a very strange but interesting premise – that you could paint your walls with some stuff and your room would expand – this as you can imagine resulted in a very surreal scenario.

for a quick potted history of russian writing – highly recommended.


February 28, 2010 at 10:47 am Leave a comment


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