If there is a theme this month, and I guess I’ve just decided there is, then it’s Russia. So in the spirit of that the next book along comes from one of the modern greats Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One of the good things about short story collections is it provides a chance to get a wide flavor of a writers work.
This is no exception so far kicking off with two stories that were both in their time stand alone novellas.
Matryona’s House sums up everything you think of with Russian literature. It is set in a remote village with the main characters living in a broken down house that you can picture so clearly.
But the village is full of the bitchy, selfish and lazy people that populate any society and the story of a widow working so hard for others and begrudged her own good fortune when it comes is one that could be replicated in almost any rural society. What makes it uniquely Russian is the existence of party figures looking for stolen peat and the collectivization that benefits the system but never the individual.
For the Good of the Cause is a great story that rips open the corruption at the heart of Soviet politics. The children in a technical college have given their own time and energy to help build a new building so they can start lessons in a fresh and well sized college. But they have their building taken away initially to a research project but in the end to a corrupt businessman looking for a new place for his works. The inability to use common sense stretches right up to the top with everyone too scared to question a decision that clearly is unfair.
Those that do question it, the teachers and the children, are given a lesson they will never forget in having to come to terms with unfairness, corruption and a political system that is a million miles away from understanding and rewarding its citizens.
Great stuff and there’s more to come…