Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#10: Tales of Belkin by Alexander Pushkin

Tales of Belkin
by Alexander Pushkin
-born in Russia, 1799
-128 Pages
-translated by Josh Billings
-more about Pushkin (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Born into nobility in Moscow & educated by French tutors, Alexander Pushkin learned Russian from the household serfs.
- He was banished from the capital for writing political poems, but wrote some of his greatest work while in exile.
- After being pardoned, he married in 1831.  They became regulars of court society, and were soon impoverished.
- In 1837, scandalous rumors spurred a duel. He was wounded and died 2 days later, and the government secretly removed his body to his family's distant estate since they feared a public outpouring at his funeral.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
The first work of prose by the man Russians call the father of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin's Tales of Belkin was first published anonymously, due to the author's fear of the Tsar's censors.  It would prove such a watershed publication that it has become the namesake for Russia's most prestigious literary award, the Belkin Prize, given to the best novella of the year.

It is, indeed, a work worthy of a master, expanding concepts of the form even as it delivers a concise and vivid picture of 19th century Russian life by linking five tales of seemingly disparate people from every walk of life, ostensibly collected by the scholar Ivan Belkin.

The form allowed Pushkin to exploit his sense of lyricism, his gift for the portraiture and the precise, telling detail, and his expansive sense of humanism.  Presented here in a vibrant new translation by Josh Billings, it is easy to see why Leo Tolstoy called this novella Russia's finest book of prose, and urged young writers to "read and re-read the Tales of Belkin."

My Impressions:
While each of the novellas I've read so far has had something great about it, there have been a couple that have captivated me and found me declaring [mentally] that I've found a new favorite author.  Casanova, Shelley, and now Pushkin--each for different reasons.

In this case, it was the brilliant storytelling that won me over.  In fact, I didn't even write down very many quotes because I was so involved with the stories being told.  Dealing mostly with social structure, pride, and honor, these stories include people from very different walks of life.  Pushkin examines motivation, justification, and the happiness and sorrow that come to define our lives.
The Anglophile bore the criticism the same way our journalists do.  He flew into a rage and called his slanderer a bear and provincial.
Pushkin, for me, struck a perfect balance between simple and complex, between humor and gravity--exposing the superficial and genuine parts in all of us.  When you can't put it down and it makes you think...that's just about the best of both worlds.
My readers will spare me, I hope, the unnecessary duty of describing how all this ends.


  1. It seems like these novellas are really nice ways of getting introduced to new authors ...

  2. The omission of note-taking speaks well for this one. Do the same when the read is too good to interrupt the flow of the words. Looking forward to this one now.

  3. Maybe I should tackle the Russian authors after I tackle the women authors? I do love Tolstoy.

  4. Sam, it's been a perfect challenge for that. I've been amazed all over again at how readable classic authors can be.

    Frances, exactly--I was just sucked into the stories, the writing flowed quite well. Hope you enjoy it!

    Heidi, I love Tolstoy too...I'm glad to be getting a chance to experience some other Russian authors, that's something I've wanted to do for a while. There's quite a few of them though!


I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!