Russian fiction

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Short Story Challenge – The Student by Anton Chekhov from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published March 20, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Student all about?:

Stories to Get You Through the Night is a collection to remedy life’s stresses and strains. Inside you will find writing from the greatest of classic and contemporary authors; stories that will brighten and inspire, move and delight, soothe and restore in equal measure.

This is an anthology to devour or to savour at your leisure, each story a perfectly imagined whole to be read and reread, and each a journey to transport the reader away from the everyday. Immersed in the pages you will follow lovers to midnight trysts, accompany old friends on new adventures, be thrilled by ghostly delights, overcome heartbreak, loss and longing, and be warmed by tales of redemption, and of hope and happiness.

Whether as a cure for insomnia, to while away the hours on a midnight journey, or as a brief moment of escapism before you turn in, the stories contained in this remarkable collection provide the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of modern life – a rich and calming selection guaranteed to see you through the night.

The Student is the story of a young man taking a walk on a winters night and after talking to an old widow and her daughter by a camp fire, undergoes a transformation of his emotions.

What did I think?:

Okay, first of all I have never read any of Chekhov’s work previously, so am slightly unfamiliar with his style. This story is incredibly short, only five pages and I felt as if I had to read it twice to get a real sense of what was going on. It follows a young man called Ivan Velikopolsky who is a student (obviously – see title) of the clerical academy. He is returning from a day’s shooting on a cold winters night and we get the sense that he is feeling rather downcast:

” It seemed to him that the cold that had suddenly come on had destroyed the order and harmony of things, that nature itself felt ill at ease, and that was why the evening darkness was falling more rapidly than usual.”

He begins to think about past events in history and how the weather must have been the same in certain famed events which appears to give him comfort. Spotting a camp fire tended by an old widow and her daughter he joins them and strikes up a conversation about religion – you know, the famous story where Peter denied the Lord before the cock crowed three times? It is also Good Friday at the time of this tale, so the events related to the Crucifixion are obviously prominent in Ivan’s mind. The widow is filled with emotion and weeps and Ivan leaves her deep in thought until finally he feels filled with a sort of joy, with a sudden understanding that “the past is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” The sudden shift in his emotions leaves him in a state of pure happiness, which is probably why this story can be found in the “Stories that make you glad to be alive” section of this collection. For me, I didn’t see the necessity of religion to tell this story but I liked the shift of emotions that took place which turned the tale round from its initial gloomy beginnings. A fairly interesting (and very short) read but perhaps not my best introduction to Chekhov? If anyone can recommend any others, I’m happy to give them a go!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Monkey by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

Published October 15, 2013 by bibliobeth

Anna Karenina

What’s it all about?:

Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

What did I think?:

This is one of the most highly regarded pieces of Russian literature, and felt like quite a daunting prospect for me personally as I have previously tried (and dismally failed) to finish this novel. It revolves around the lives and loves of seven main characters in Tzarist Russia, all with their little quirks and foibles as they navigate the politics of the age, and explores their points of view on marriage, love and happiness. We first meet our title character Anna Karenina at a train station, (this is quite important as we also leave her character at a train station) where she is meeting her brother “Stiva” Oblonsky. I found Oblonsky a really interesting character, he is a bit of a rogue, and has an eye for the ladies, but he is written in such a way that he seems to have a certain charm, and it’s quite hard not to like him. Oblonsky has begged Anna to come and stay with him for a while, he is experiencing serious marital difficulties after his wife Dolly found out about his affair with the governess. Dolly refuses to talk to him, and Oblonsky hopes that Anna will manage to talk her round. Anna also meets a cavalry officer at the station by the name of Vronsky, who will play a huge part in her life, becoming her lover as she desperately tries to navigate her way out of an unhappy marriage to Karenin. The Russian politics of this time are so severe that Anna becomes labelled as a “fallen woman,” and is shunned by all notable Russian society. Her husband also dithers over agreeing to a divorce, partly to punish her for her infidelity, and partly because it would greatly affect his position as a government official.

Another notable storyline in the novel is that of Levin and Kitty, the latter having refused his proposal on the first offer due to her having designs on marrying Vronsky. Levin is plunged into a pit of depression, and then when Vronsky hooks up with Anna, Kitty also falls ill with the shame of it all, realising that Vronsky had no intentions of marrying her. I did enjoy Kitty as a character, and felt pleased when everything was resolved between the two and they fell in love. However, I found it incredibly frustrating at points, as they are both plagued with self-doubt, which also makes them doubt the true feelings of their significant other. Yes, you do love each other… get a grip! Anna possessed a similar character defect, where she questions Vronsky’s intentions, although there is a more serious deterioration and mental breakdown in her case.

So, on my second reading of the novel I have to conclude that I enjoyed it a lot more. Tolstoy manages to write characters that are so fascinating that the reader becomes immersed in their world with no plan of leaving. I still found some parts quite challenging, and tended to drift off slightly when politics or farming was discussed, which I’m afraid I don’t have much interest in. I can certainly understand why the novel is so celebrated though, and am very glad I managed to finish it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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