TARP No. 23 – ‘Great Russian Short Stories of the Twentieth Century’ ed. by Yelena P. Francis

Who? Yelena P. Francis compiles and translates a good few Golden/Silver/Modern age Russian(-ish) writers, including Gorky, Chekhov, Andreev, Skitalets, Bryusov, Mamin-Sibiryak, Zinovieva-Annibal, Kuprin, Gilyarovsky, Grin, Zamyatin, Bulgakov, Ilf, Gaidar and Grossman.

What? A dual-language compilation with Russian on the left, English on the right. Means you can lie on just one side while reading: Russians on the left, English on the right.

When? 2013, with stories spanning a surprisingly short time: 1899-1923 (with Grossman’s contribution following at a belated 1960).

How? Francis’ translation is plain and formulaic, perhaps due to the fact it’s meant to be read in conjunction with its Russian original by some kind of student. Reading no Russian, the plain and formulaic is all I have. Her introductions, though well-informed, are also fairly plain.

Why? The selection here, for those interested in Russian short fiction, is interesting. A few writers here I’ve been hunting down for some time (Grin and Ilf in particular); others are slowly opening drawers of joy (Zinovieva-Annibal, who also appears in Penguin’s Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida); others are regular legends still willing to surprise. Francis seems to have veered towards pre-revolutionary pieces, White and Red, with a lean towards the suffering of the Russian people and an appreciation of the classic Russian Realist style inherited from the Golden Age masters. This, as always, is a turn-off, though a few break rank. Zinovieva-Annibal’s ‘Electricity’ is a lyrical vignette that fizzles to pleasant nothingness, and Zamyatin’s ‘Dragon’ holds itself together just enough to maintain readability. Bulgakov remains the don, with Grin coming in shortly behind with surprising grittiness. As an introduction to the genre, the collection is comprehensive, but not overly-ambitious. A dash more of the old Russian magic (as in Gaidar’s ‘Hot Stone’) wouldn’t have gone amiss, but then the left-hand Cyrillic did lend a little je ne sais quoi to the experience, as they might have said in a nineteenth-century Russian nursery. Reading it sick, laying in bed for an entire day, will have to be romance enough.

Great Russian Short Stories of the Twentieth Centry is available as a Dover Publications paperback, in translation by Yelena P. Francis.

18 May 2017

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