The Beauties

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Title:The Beauties: Essential Stories

Writer: Anton Chekhov

Publishing House: Pushkin Press

Date of Publication: October 5th 2017

Rating: 5 stars

“When you see a broad village street by moonlight, with its huts, haystacks and slumbering willow trees, peace descends on your soul.”

Anton Chekhov. Among the greatest of the great Russian writers who created a plethora of the finest novels, plays and memoirs in World Literature. From a land that has captured the imagination of the brightest pens with her beauty, her mysticism and a multitude of antitheses and fables. Chekhov’s plays are sought after by directors and actors. His short stories are considered classics and rightfully so. “The Beauties” contains some of the most tender, lyrical and picturesque texts created by an immortal pen.

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(Anton Chekhov’s birthhouse in Taganrog.)

“The Beauties” is such an interesting title. Beauty…what is beauty? Chekhov depicts the ambiguity of the term quite clearly. Beauty of appearance, of manners. The beauty to dictate your own rules in life and the ugliness that we want to think of as “beauty” because we are either too afraid or too unwilling to admit otherwise. Beauty and love are as intertwined as they are feeble. The sorrows of love is a central theme in these stories juxtaposed with issues concerning class and an underlying, elegant but very much present critique on the political and social stare of the nation. Apart from these themes, there is an almost oneiric, at times, imagery of Russia, the countryside and the cities of this vast, mystical, beautiful country. Moscow, Petersburg, Yalta, Siberia….

I would be delighted to read these stories in Russian if I had the chance, since there is a certain haunting rhythm in this language but I believe that the translator did an excellent job. The dialogue flows nicely, the descriptive passages are beautifully composed. The stories that I consider the finest in this collection are “The Lady with the Little Dog”, one of the most well-known stories by Chekhov and quite scandalous for the time, “The Privy Councillor” , “The Kiss” and “The Man in the Box”.

There are creations that are immortal, sacred. There is a squad of selected writers that gave us wonders to make our grey world a finer, elegant, beautiful place. Anton Chekhov is undoubtedly among them. His works are not the epic, grandiose monuments of Tolstoy nor the bleak, haunting studies of Dostoevsky or the pessimistic masterpieces of Gogol. However, like Pushkin, Chekhov realised a more humane, milder, everyday way of living and thinking, but no less accurate or powerful than his peers.

“You take lies for truth and ugliness for beauty.”

Many thanks to Pushkin Press and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.