Who? Anthologised therein, your favourite Muscovites and Muscophiles: Ivan Bunin, Yury Kazakov, Anton Chekhov (x2), Yury Koval, Tatyana Shchepkina-Kupernik, Nikolai Karamzin, Evgeny Grishkovets, Igor Sutyagin, Vladimir Gilyarovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva, Marina Boroditskaya, Ivan Shmelyov, Larisa Miller and Maria Galina, translated by Sasha Dugdale, compiled and edited by Helen Constantine. *Phew*
What? A collection of short stories loosely revolving around Moscow life through the years.
When? Compiled 2013 with stories ranging from late 18th Century to present day.
How? In near-random order, jumping from age to age and voice to voice, with occasionally only the loosest of threads connecting the story to the history, culture or geography of the city. And severely lacking Krzizhanovsky, whose writings on Moscow need a bloody good airing.
Why? Reading Moscow Tales was, for a few weeks, a slow sojourn through some of Russia’s least evocative writers: especially in Ivan Bunin, who I would like to love, but don’t. Chekhov’s Kashtanka was a highlight, due its talking dog, and Karamzin’s famous Poor Liza still holds a certain sentimental charm, but otherwise, I was fairly dulled. Then, towards the end of the anthology: a chink of glorious light. The extract from Marina Tsvetaeva’s My Pushkin, a memoir of the author’s relationship with the Pushkin Memorial in Moscow, is vividly pictured, personable yet avant-garde, and full of emotional honesty. Her colourful polemic on the joy she drew from Pushkin’s blackness (the poet’s great grandfather was an Afro-Russian circa 17th Century) is especially inspiring. This piece, as well as Tsvetaeva’s poetry, is ecstatically worth reading, even if surrounded by the grey drapes of Bunin and others.
Moscow Tales is available as an Oxford University Press paperback.
24 January 2017