Posts tagged russian literature

Literature and War Readalong: Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman

I’m reviewing this book as part of the Literature and War Readalong hosted by Caroline of the excellent book blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. The first thing to say about this book is that it is unfinished. The second thing to say about it is that it’s brilliant. Which leads me, of course, to the third thing: How good would this book have been if Grossman had finished it? Let’s start with the good things. Vasily Grossman brilliantly depicts the horror of Stalinist Russia side by side with the… Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 5

The final part in my journey through Russian literature. For the original post in the series, please click here. Varlam Shalamov Here we move into the Stalinist era and writing about the Gulag. Through the Snow is a beautiful extended metaphor about writing as walking through virgin snow, with readers coming along behind on tractors and horses. Berries is about prisoners being tempted by berries just on the other side of a line they are not allowed to cross. One of them crosses, and is shot dead. The guard comes… Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 4

For the original post in this series, click here. Isaak Babel These three stories come from Babel’s posting as the equivalent of an embedded war correspondent with a Cossack regiment in Poland in 1920. They are not compromised or sanitised in any way, however: the convey the full savagery and horror not only of war but of military life. My First Goose, for example, is set not on the battlefield but in the barracks, where the narrator arrives, a bookish political commissar, and is mocked and threatened by the soldiers…. Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 3

For the original post in this series, click here. The Gentleman from San Francisco and In Paris by Ivan Bunin Two stories about abrupt deaths, both beautifully written, both very different. The Gentleman from San Francisco is about the transitory nature of existence. A bit like Dostoevsky’s Bobok, it shows how a lot of the things we think are important are rendered irrelevant by death. The gentleman from San Francisco is very wealthy and is treated with exaggerated deference by the staff at a hotel in Italy, but when he… Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 2

Continuing my journey through Russian literature: if you want to see the introduction and reviews of earlier stories, click here. Bobok by Fyodor Dostoevsky Not my favourite Dostoevsky, this one. It’s quite a funny little story about a man who goes to a graveyard and hears the dead people talking to each other in their graves. There’s some good satire about people’s social pretensions – although you’d think it wouldn’t matter any more, the dead people are still very concerned with rank and status and impressing other people. But nothing… Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 1

I was always going to enjoy this book. I have loved Russian literature from an early age, and this short story collection is a Hall of Fame of Russian literature. With a few exceptions, which the editor Robert Chandler highlights in his introduction, the big names are all here. The main omissions are Gorky, Grossman, Pasternak and Sholokhov, because their best work is in other forms like novels or poetry, and Nabokov, because agreement couldn’t be reached with his publishers. But there’s still Pushkin and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Gogol… Read More

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

The devil is unleashed in Stalinist Moscow. The funny thing is that while the devil kills, maims and causes havoc throughout the city, he is very far from a traditional definition of evil. In fact, the character struck me as being more like an avenging angel, punishing people for various sins such as cowardice, greed, vanity or lust. There is a further subversion of expectations later in the novel when Margarita makes a pact with the devil to find the character she calls the Master. We are so used to… Read More

“The Gentle Spirit” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky is one of my favourite writers. I discovered him in my teenage years, read as many of his books as I could get my hands on, and to be honest haven’t read anything else by him in a long time. I still count him as one of my favourite writers, though, more on memory than anything else. His writing is so urgent and immediate, and began to open up a world for me beyond 1990s South London. The Gentle Spirit is very short – longer than a short story,… Read More