Category: Russian literature

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

Last day of the Russian Short Stories and it ends with a well known author capable of sowing seeds of thought in a very limited number of pages.

The Embroidered TowelMikhail Bulgakov
Before becoming a writer Bulgakov was a doctor and worked through the First World War and started as a novelist covering the experiences he know about. This is a tale of a doctor in a regional town that is green around the gills and fears having to do any major surgery. A farmer comes in with his daughter who has fallen into a threshing machine and the doctor has to carry out an amputation. He never expects her to live and so is more bold than he might have been. After she has recovered she hobbles into his office on her father’s arm and hands him a towel with a cockerel embroidered onto it, something he initially refuses but then keeps until it falls apart.

The thing to note here is that the red cockerel is a warning sign of danger in Russia and the story is set in 1917 but when it appeared in print the editor changed it to 1916 so not to appear to be some sort of warning about the revolution. Those little nuggets were gleamed from the introduction to the story.

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Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

Last day of the Russian Short Stories and it ends with a well known author capable of sowing seeds of thought in a very limited number of pages.

The Embroidered TowelMikhail Bulgakov
Before becoming a writer Bulgakov was a doctor and worked through the First World War and started as a novelist covering the experiences he know about. This is a tale of a doctor in a regional town that is green around the gills and fears having to do any major surgery. A farmer comes in with his daughter who has fallen into a threshing machine and the doctor has to carry out an amputation. He never expects her to live and so is more bold than he might have been. After she has recovered she hobbles into his office on her father’s arm and hands him a towel with a cockerel embroidered onto it, something he initially refuses but then keeps until it falls apart.

The thing to note here is that the red cockerel is a warning sign of danger in Russia and the story is set in 1917 but when it appeared in print the editor changed it to 1916 so not to appear to be some sort of warning about the revolution. Those little nuggets were gleamed from the introduction to the story.

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

There are so many stories in the Penguin Classics Russian Short Stories that this book will have to be completed another time. But in the last couple of posts this week the flavour will come from the period where writers were just starting to live with the reality of the Soviet system and their stories reflect that.

QuadraturinSigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
One of the stipulations of life in a communist city was that communal living was introduced with kitchens and bathrooms shared and each individual was not entitled to more than nine square metres.

Sutulin opens the door one night to a salesman who offers him a free trial product – Quadraturin – that expands his room after being applied to the walls. Sutulin manages to spread it across the floor, walls but runs out before he gets to the ceiling and then tumbles into bed. When he wakes the room has grown and keeps growing making it awkward for him and eventually he comes in from the street and his light bulb has broken and he plans to leave the room but loses his way inside and screams out in the night the scream of a dying man.

There is one passage where having got what he wanted and then it goes beyond his expectations Sutulin wishes things had been how they were in the past. The wider message seems to be about the inability for people to think for themselves or become an exception to the system.

Lalla’s InterestsVera Inber
Another key feature of communism was the option it provided for people of all occupations to become organised and challenge their superiors through a process of organised Soviets and workers councils.

Lalla is a six year old who plays with the 11 year old lift boy in an apartment block. Her mother tries to keep her away from the bell hop because she looks down on him but one day a meeting of all children is announced under the stairs and the lift boy keeps Lalla’s mother trapped in the lift for an hour and a half so her daughter can attend the meting. When she gets back to the apartment she finds her daughter writing out a poster: Children, be careful when electing parents! The mother then receives a note from the bell hop apologising for keeping her trapped but assuring her he did it for the sake of her daughter’s interests.

It makes you wonder about the power that communism handed to people with children being able to elect parents and six year-olds voting for their own future. The message seems to be that by handing those without knowledge the chance to set the rules the system was fatally flawed.

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

There are so many stories in the Penguin Classics Russian Short Stories that this book will have to be completed another time. But in the last couple of posts this week the flavour will come from the period where writers were just starting to live with the reality of the Soviet system and their stories reflect that.

QuadraturinSigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
One of the stipulations of life in a communist city was that communal living was introduced with kitchens and bathrooms shared and each individual was not entitled to more than nine square metres.

Sutulin opens the door one night to a salesman who offers him a free trial product – Quadraturin – that expands his room after being applied to the walls. Sutulin manages to spread it across the floor, walls but runs out before he gets to the ceiling and then tumbles into bed. When he wakes the room has grown and keeps growing making it awkward for him and eventually he comes in from the street and his light bulb has broken and he plans to leave the room but loses his way inside and screams out in the night the scream of a dying man.

There is one passage where having got what he wanted and then it goes beyond his expectations Sutulin wishes things had been how they were in the past. The wider message seems to be about the inability for people to think for themselves or become an exception to the system.

Lalla’s InterestsVera Inber
Another key feature of communism was the option it provided for people of all occupations to become organised and challenge their superiors through a process of organised Soviets and workers councils.

Lalla is a six year old who plays with the 11 year old lift boy in an apartment block. Her mother tries to keep her away from the bell hop because she looks down on him but one day a meeting of all children is announced under the stairs and the lift boy keeps Lalla’s mother trapped in the lift for an hour and a half so her daughter can attend the meting. When she gets back to the apartment she finds her daughter writing out a poster: Children, be careful when electing parents! The mother then receives a note from the bell hop apologising for keeping her trapped but assuring her he did it for the sake of her daughter’s interests.

It makes you wonder about the power that communism handed to people with children being able to elect parents and six year-olds voting for their own future. The message seems to be that by handing those without knowledge the chance to set the rules the system was fatally flawed.

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

Usually these lunchtime posts are made at my desk as I nibble a sandwich but today I am in another building at an all day meeting so this is being made a lot earlier than usual.

The Lion Yevgeny Zamyatin
A ballet company is facing a crisis after the Lion, who has to climb onto a rock and then fall off after being speared, turns up drunk so stage hand Petya Zherebyakin offers to step in and after a quick rehearsal gets the part. He rushes off to tell a policewoman who he fancies that he is in a play. She had once mentioned that she would like to fall in love with a famous actor. But as the curtain goes up and he wanders out onto the stage he is struck by fear and as he is meant to fall from the rock he crosses himself before dropping down to the floor. This brings the house down and as the policewoman roars with laughter, along with the rest of the audience, the lion covers his eyes with his paws and cries his heart out.

More in the same vein to come tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

Usually these lunchtime posts are made at my desk as I nibble a sandwich but today I am in another building at an all day meeting so this is being made a lot earlier than usual.

The Lion Yevgeny Zamyatin
A ballet company is facing a crisis after the Lion, who has to climb onto a rock and then fall off after being speared, turns up drunk so stage hand Petya Zherebyakin offers to step in and after a quick rehearsal gets the part. He rushes off to tell a policewoman who he fancies that he is in a play. She had once mentioned that she would like to fall in love with a famous actor. But as the curtain goes up and he wanders out onto the stage he is struck by fear and as he is meant to fall from the rock he crosses himself before dropping down to the floor. This brings the house down and as the policewoman roars with laughter, along with the rest of the audience, the lion covers his eyes with his paws and cries his heart out.

More in the same vein to come tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Russian Short Stories

Because there are still lots of stories left unread and it seems to accompany the Kafka very well I’m sticking with the Russian Short Stories this week.

God sees the truth, and waitsLeo Tolstoy
A good man, Alsyonov, tells his wife he is off to the market and she tells him she has had a dream that it will ruin him so she tells him not to go. He ignores her and meets up with a friend, stays the night with him in an inn, and then after leaving early the morning after is stopped by the police and charged with the murder of his merchant friend who has been found with his throat cut. Alsyonov is found with a bloodied knife in his bag and gets 26 years in Siberia. While there a man comes in who he knows really killed his friend and after he discovers him trying to escape but refuses to drop him in it with the governor. The prisoner begs for his forgiveness and confesses to the murder of the merchant but by the time the release papers come through Alsyonov has died.

That’s a cheery lunch time tale. More of the same probably tomorrow…