Date Archives May 2010

“t zero” by Italo Calvino

This is a bit of a strange mix of stories. Some are narrated by Qfwfq, who tells in first person stories of his experiences as various entities such as a unicellular organism at the creation of the universe. Others read like a well-written, literary version of a physicist’s thought experiments. All are interesting and thought-provoking, but get a little bogged down in places because of the very foreignness of the experiences Calvino is describing. In “Mitosis”, for example, Qfwfq is telling of his time as a unicellular organism, but at… 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

“Out of Office” by Mark Piggott

When I lived in America, I went driving along the coast of Maine once. My girlfriend at the time was experimenting with a new photographic technique, some way of punching up the colours so that when I look at our photos everything is more vivid: verdant green grass against a bright blue see and the blinding white of fishing boats. Out of Office is like seeing photos of London using the same technique. It looks like London, but everything is more extreme, more vivid. The summer is hotter, the buildings… 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