5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 22 February 2011
I got this book a few years ago, and I still have it on my bed table, I still take it with me when I go away. Not only this collection of stories is great, but thanks to this book I have discovered writers I did not know and who became very important in my "reading life"...
This is a collection of shorties by Russian writers. For those who don't know, short stories are big in Russia (as big as novels), and writers are big in the Russian cultures ("the prophetes").
Now, 26 Russian writers are there, and for each writer there is a nice 1-2 pages introduction of the writer and of the following short story (stories).
The important thing is that not only you will read great short stories by Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Tchekov, Solzhenitsyn and so on, but you will also discover authors you had never heard of before. And, you might make great discoveries... And you might then dig into the other works by these writers - this is what happened to me.
So, for this, I would like to thank Robert Chandler.
Robert Chandler is the one who put together these short stories. He also translated quite a few of them. He is also the translator of Grossman (read "Life and Fate" if you haven't!) and Platonov - his favourite.
My impression (I don't know him) is that Chandler not only translates these books that he loves, he is also on a mission. That is, he is trying to make us discover those great not so well known writers. He knows that they are great but for some reason (*) they are not so well known, so he is "promoting" them (by editing this collection, and he also talked about it in a few interviews in the Guardian), he is giving them to us.
(*) I am not sure why some of them are not so well known. Many of the communist area writers could not publish their work.. And when it came out later - smuggled to the West - there was not much publicity for them (cf again "Life and Fate").
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 2009
This book was published in 2005 and contained 41 short stories by 26 writers. The works were published originally between 1834 and 1998. More than two-thirds of the translations in the collection were produced wholly or in part by the editor, Robert Chandler.
From the first half of the 19th century, there were Pushkin, Lermontov and Gogol; from the latter half, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Leskov and Chekhov. Omitted were Vsevolod Garshin and the humor of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin and Kozma Prutkov.
From the first half of the 20th century, major writers included Bunin, Zamyatin, Bulgakov, Babel and Platonov, together with the much-loved Zoshchenko. Omitted were writers like Gorky, Pasternak, Grossman and Nabokov, whose short stories the editor considered inferior to their work in other genres, as well as anything by Valery Bryusov or Alexander Kuprin. Also omitted was any writer whose work could be both creative and opposed to capitalism, such as Boris Lavrenyov. The 1920s and 30s were the most frequently represented period in the collection, with nearly half of the pieces written and/or published during this time.
From the second half of the 20th century, the anthology included short stories by Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Shukshin, Eppel, Dovlatov and Buida. Representation of writing after about 1965 was maybe the thinnest part of the collection, with only four works. For this period, something might've been chosen from among a list of short stories by writers including, for example, Vassili Belov or Vladimir Tendryakov (1960s and 70s), Boris Ekimov, Victor Erofeev, Vitaly Moskalenko, Nikolai Shmelyov, Leonid Shorokhov, Vladimir Sorokin, Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Dina Rubina, Galina Shcherbakova, Tatiana Tolstaya, Ludmila Ulitskaya or Svetlana Vasilenko (1980s and after), and Victor Pelevin or Alexander Terekhov (1990s and after).
From the 1950s, writers like Yuri Kazakov, Yuri Nagibin and Vera Panova were omitted. For the 20th century as a whole, works of satirical, surreal and/or other humor were of course included (Zoshchenko, Kharms, Dovlatov), but much other fine social or political humor was left out, by writers such as Vlasy Doroshevitch, Pantaleimon Romanov, Ilf and Petrov, Vladimir Polyakov, Vladimir Voinovich, Dmitri Prigov and Vladimir Kuzemko.
In place of what was omitted, the collection appeared to favor writing by authors from the first half of the 20th century whose work has gained increasing attention and republication within recent decades. These included Platonov (claimed by some including Chandler to be the most important Russian prose writer of the last century), the absurdist Kharms, Leonid Dobychin (some of whose writing has been likened to Dubliners) and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Some space was also devoted to a relatively small number of early authors who were women: Lidiya Zinovyeva-Annibal, Teffi and Vera Inber. Another point of interest was that lesser-known pieces were included for Turgenev, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn and one of Bunin's.
In all cases, the editor's choices were made with the aim of conveying the vitality, linguistic creativity and emotional depth of the Russian short story, with the selections being ones he'd been able to read many times with increasing enjoyment. It must've been painful indeed to select from among the many suitable works by Chekhov, Babel and Shalamov, let alone the others. Only one tale by Chekhov was included, despite his great influence on the short story. For Babel, all the pieces included were from his cycle on the Russian-Polish war, with nothing chosen from among his tales on youthful experience or Jewish characters in Odessa.
The work in the collection that succeeded best in fulfilling the editor's aim, for this reader, was Leskov's "The Steel Flea" (1881), called his most brilliant short story, in which an admiring czar and his xenophobic adviser traveled to England on a study tour. It combined fascinating developments poking fun at native attitudes toward the West, among other things, with incredible language to make you laugh out loud ("Where's the key to the flea?" "How could he be taken away from them without his grasp port"). Another was "Bobok" by Dostoevsky, in which a narrator overheard conversations in a cemetery that showed humans could be just as irreligious in death as in life.
From the 20th century, there was a story from A Country Doctor's Notebook by Bulgakov in which the young narrator was thrown into a medical emergency, described with astonishing realism. Platonov's "The Return," which showed with great sensitivity a soldier's return to his family. And "The Officer's Belt" by Dovlatov, a tall tale set in late Soviet times, which made me want to read more of his work especially. The piece by Kharms -- called his longest work for adults -- combined surreal humor with an alienated narrator and a corpse that wouldn't lie still, though it was far from being his most grotesque tale. And there was a story by Inber containing close, sympathetic observation of the behavior of children. Some of the other works, by Zamyatin and Dobychin, were too subtle for this reader.
Anthologies of similar size or larger include A Treasury of Russian Literature (1943), A Treasury of Great Russian Short Stories (1944), Russian Literature since the Revolution (1948), Great Russian Short Stories (1959), The Portable Twentieth Century Russian Reader (1985, revised 1993), The Portable Nineteenth Century Russian Reader (1993) and An Anthology of Russian Literature from Earliest Writings to Modern Fiction (1997).
Among the many smaller general surveys are Anthology of Russian Literature in the Soviet Period from Gorki to Pasternak (1960) and The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories (1981).
Small surveys focused mainly on contemporary prose include The Wild Beach and Other Stories (1992), Dissonant Voices: The New Russian Fiction (1991), The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing (1995), Present Imperfect: Stories by Russian Women (1996), Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia (2009), Life Stories: Original Works by Russian Writers (2009) and most of the issues of GLAS magazine (1991 to the present).