Title: Sentimental Tales
Writer: Mikhail Zoshchenko (translated by Boris Dralyuk)
Publishing House: Columbia University Press
Date of Publication: July 31st 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’What do you think, Auntie, does man have a soul?’’
Mikhail Zoshchenko is considered one of the greatest Soviet satirists, a genre that flourished in the country, especially during the Soviet era. The six stories of the collection are set during the first decade of the Bolshevik era but have very little to do with politics or the Revolution. Instead, characters tangible and familiar, with hopes, fears, and regrets we all face, are the heart of each story. Zoshchenko uses the technique of the detached narrator-author, called Kolenkorov, who is our guide to the adventures and sentimental misfortunes and a slightly nostalgic lover of old Russia.
‘’What – is there a shortage of good facts in our lives?’’
The most beautiful tales are always the ones which narrate the hope of approval, love and understanding. This collection is no exception to this rule. The characters are primarily artists. Musicians, authors, poets, ballerinas mingle with members of the former upper-class that represent a world which has lost every privilege once taken for granted. The political and social upheaval is referred to in a subtle, cleverly satirical manner. Obviously, it is there, influencing the choices of the characters, shaping wealth and poverty (more often) and prospects but if we come to think about it, in the end, it makes little difference to the women and men of the stories. For these are primarily tales of emotion and sentimental behaviour and these aren’t easily influenced by any political or social status quo. In addition, the author often draws an amusing, satirical comparison between Western and Russian Literature without any trace of malice or cynicism but with many valid observations.
My favourite story in the collection is called Apollo and Tamara. A talented pianist leaves to join the fight during the First World War. He returns only to find that the life he knew exists no more. This is a sad tale. Sad and unfair but beautiful.
Needless to say, this collection is highly recommended to every lover of Russian Literature.
‘’And in that case, he might as well jump under a tram.’’
Many thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.