Monday, 30 November 2015

A Tragedian in Spite of Himself by Anton Chekov (5/5)

First published: 1899
Original title: 
Трагик поневоле
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West

Wiki says: In the play, Ivan Ivanovitch Tolkachov asks to borrow a revolver from his friend, Alexey Alexeyevitch Murashkin. Murashkin inquires to the reason, and Tolkachov complains bitterly about the bad events in his life. Murashkin expresses his sympathy, and then asks Tolkachov to take a sewing machine and a caged canary to Olga Pavlovna, a mutual acquaintance. [Spoiler: highlight to read]On hearing Murashkin's request, Tolkachov snaps and begins chasing Murashkin around the room, screaming that he wants blood.

I say: I absolutely loved this short play and found myself laughing out loud at the end.

My goodness, how accurate.

The synopsis says it all, really, but Chekhov puts it in much more humorous terms. Tolkachov complains about the people his life, only to have the person he was complaining to do the very thing he (Tolkachov) was complaining about.

That made sense in my head.

Most of us have a Murashkin in our lives, and if you cannot recognise him in those around you, chances are you’re him.
5/5 for this absolute perfection.

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Cherry Orchard Anton Chekov (3.5/5)

First published: 1904
Original title: Вишнëвый сад
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West

Page count: 96
GoodReads says: The Cherry Orchard" was the last play written by Anton Chekhov and is widely regarded as one of his greatest dramatic accomplishments. It is the story of an aristocratic Russian woman and her family who return to their estate, a cherry orchard, to oversee the auction of the estate in order to pay the mortgage. The rise of the middle class and the decline of the aristocracy that was prevalent at the end of the 20th century in Russia, and ultimately led to the Socialistic Revolution, are excellently portrayed in Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard".

I say: This is described as a comedy, and indeed Chekhov intended it as such, but I could not find anything comical about it. Elements of irony and folly, yes, but no comedy. On the other hand, I’m not too sure that I would call it much of a tragedy either. Having waited far too long to read this, I am reluctant to say that it was disappointing; it just didn’t live up to my expectations. 

And I didn’t even really have any expectations. 

As a whole, this is the type of play that benefits from discussions about how those who started life at the bottom end up at the top, while those at the top end up at the bottom. I loved the irony of how Lubow has taken her wealth so much for granted she has ended up wasting it on the wrong things. E.g. she is happy to give a beggar a gold coin while her daughter points out that there are servants in the house starving. And even though it is certain that the estate along with the cherry orchard has to be sold one way or another, Lubow, and her brother Gaev, cling so stubbornly to their disbelief that they end up apathetic and powerless to whom and how it is sold. It would all have been terribly depressing had not their impassiveness so provoked me. One minute they’re crying and the next they are spending more money. 


And then you have someone like Lopakhin who, probably because his parents were serfs, has a huge chip on his shoulder causing him to take advantage of the people who have only shown him kindness. Although he may be right in saying that the only alternative is for Lubow to sell the property, his impatience with them, and later on glee, reveals his true intentions. 

It was all a bit much and yet nothing at all...

Having said that, I would love to see this on stage someday.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka (3/5)

First published: 2008
Page count: 320
The back says: The follow up to her hugely popular first novel presents a Canterbury Tales inspired picaresque that is also a biting satire of economic exploitation. When a ragtag international crew of migrant workers is forced to flee the strawberry fields they have been working in, they set off across England looking for employment. Displaying the same sense of compassion, social outrage, and gift for hilarity that she showed in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka chronicles their bumpy road trip with a tender affection for her downtrodden characters and their search for a taste of the good life.

I say: It’s been a couple of months since I read this, and although it was never destined to inspire a long review, I feel that the words I now have left about it probably won’t convey my initial reaction. My initial reaction being exasperation. 

Yes, I do realise that this is meant to be a comedy with social commentary. Yes, I do realise that this, at the same time, is fiction and should be taken lightly. But no, I just did not have any patience for the ridiculously improbable escapades Lewycka put her characters through. 

Characters that all were such stereotypical caricatures I felt embarrassed reading them. 

I have previously pointed out the issues I’ve had with Lewycka’s prose, and I fear I encountered the exact same issues here. It took me about 3 weeks to force my way through, and I feel no better having read it than I would had I just abandoned it after they left the strawberry field. 


The narration rotates between the characters, which I have no issue of, other than the fact that even the dog is represented; which struck me as a failed attempt at being cute silly. Few of the narrators were convincing, in fact, they all struck me as plot points to Lewycka’s agenda – whatever that was – about the consequences of economic migration. 


3/5 because of the letters Emmanuel was writing to his sister (however unbelievably naïve he was portrayed).  

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Bear by Anton Chekhov (3/5)

First published: 1888
Original title: Медведь: Шутка в одном действии
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West
GoodReads says: Although The Bear is one of Anton Chekhov’s lesser-known plays, this “Farce in One-Act," as it is subtitled, is an excellent representative of its genre. This is one of Chekhov's very short plays, an unquestionable comedy, as opposed to the author's full length dramas which he considered comedies, but which are certainly of a more serious ilk. Written, published, and performed in 1888, Chekhov’s play reflects on and pokes fun of liberal discourses in mid- to late-nineteenth-century Russia, in particular those concerned with "The Woman Question." The Bear is engaged in dialogue with Chekhov's contemporaries and earlier Russian literature on women’s emancipation, such as Ivan Turgenev’s On the Eve (1859) and Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? (1863). The play condenses so much of human nature into this short, comical, bizarre, and ultimately triumphant act. Chekhov demonstrates how close (at times) is the relationship between anger and passion, and how strange and wonderful is the human condition.

I say: I am starting to sense a theme of the absurd in Chekhov’s plays, and I, in some cases, am loving it, while in others it’s leaving me unimpressed. 

The Bear falls somewhere in between. 

We’ve got Popova, a widow who locked herself up in the house after her husband’s passing and refuses to see anyone until Smirnov appears demanding money that the late husband owes him and refuses to leave without it. Popova informs him that she has no money in the house but can produce it in two days, which he will not accept and they start to quarrel about men and women; how they are expected to behave and how they actually do behave. 

It all becomes a bizarre battle of wits and offence.
The part of the play that I loved Smirnov challenging Popova to a duel regardless of her being a woman, and Popova directly going off to get her late husband’s pistols. What happens after that is the main reason why I didn’t really like the play. Yes, I do realise that this is a farce, and knowing Chekhov’s frame of mind when writing it makes me admire him more, but not the play. According to Wikipedia, Chekhov wrote of the play in a letter as such:

Just to while away the time, I wrote a trivial little vaudeville [vodevilchik] in the French manner, called The Bear . . . Alas! when they out on New Times find out that I write vaudevilles they will excommunicate me. What am I to do? I plan something worthwhile — and — it is all tra-la-la! In spite of all my attempts at being serious the result is nothing; with me the serious alternates with the trivial!

Furthermore, about its success he remarked: "I've managed to write a stupid vaudeville which, owing to the fact that it is stupid, is enjoying surprising success."

I mean, how can you not love him for that?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

14 December av Kristina Sjögren (4/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2006
Antal sidor: 166

Baksidan säger:
När Ruth kommer tillbaka till skolan i nian efter sommarlovet, blir hon utfryst av sina kompisar. Förtvivlad och besviken undrar hon vad som har hänt. Strax därefter hamnar en av dem på sjukhus, och Ruth bestämmer sig för att trots allt besöka Angela.
Det är upptakten till en ny, djup vänskap samtidigt som Ruth kastas in en virvel av händelser som vänder upp och ner på hela hennes liv och förändrar det för alltid.

Jag säger:
Trots att jag kände på mig att den här boken skulle göra mig ledsen, så trodde jag faktiskt inte att jag skulle bli så pass påverkad som jag blev. Det var manga gamla känslor från högstadiet som kom fram; vissa bra, men de flesta dåliga. Författaren beskrev exakt och verkligt hur Ruth slogs mot ensamheten och ledsamheten efter bästa vännens svek, och ett tag fick jag sluta läsa när orden skar för djupt bland minnena av utfrysning. 


Vi får följa Ruth genom hennes dagboksanteckningar, och då datumet är bokens titel räknade jag hela tiden dagarna till det oundvikliga. Det är så mycket som hinner hända på en termin; skola, ridlektioner, kaos i hemmet, och en döende vän, och det var egentligen bara språket som ibland var lite krystat och mindre trovärdigt. 

4/5 pga hög igenkänningsfaktor och ett fint slut; tyvärr så var det lite väl mycket ridning för mitt intresse, och en viss händelse mot slutet kändes inte alls trolig. Synd bara att det var så mycket stav och grammatikfel – detta är ju ändå andra upplagan. 

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Wedding by Anton Chekhov (3/5)

First published: 1889
Original title: Свадьба
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West
The back says: No synopsis available.

I say: I’m not sure what to say about this short play. The wedding party is promised that a general will attend the reception, and when he arrives he is drunk and talks nonsense. [Spoiler: highlight to read] After a short while it is revealed that he is not a general at all, and the person who was given 25 roubles for his hire has kept the money himself. 
It was short, not particularly funny or interesting and I feel rather indifferent to it.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Mosaik av Marita Hallenberg Linkruus (3/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2014
Antal sidor: 18

Baksidan säger:
Hon är lycklig över att tillhöra de utvalda. Men det blir inte alls som hon tänkt sig och hon flyr till en värld som har något hennes värld saknar. Hon inser så småningom att också hon hela livet saknat något; en bit i den mosaik som är hennes liv. Kan hon finna den saknade biten här, i denna smutsiga, stökiga, förbjudna värld?

Jag säger: Efter att ha läst två andra berättelser av Linkruus blev jag sugen på mer, men blev lite osäker när jag insåg att denna
berättelse var en del av Fångad av lust: antologin som beskrivs som "erotik som fängelse. Erotik som befrielse. När vår längtan efter närhet möter dagens oskrivna regelverk och blottställer oss."

Jag var inte på humör för erotik, men som tur är – för mig i alla fall – så var det inte så mycket fokus på erotiken.

Då jag inte heller läst sammanfattningen ovan förstod jag inte att detta var science fiction. Utan att ge bort för mycket så utspelar handlingen sig i en värld där kvinnor lever ensamma i en stad och det är bara de utvalda som ”får” bli gravida. När berättelsen börjar befinner sig protagonisten på en av de mest exklusiva klinikerna för att bli inseminerad.

Det var en intressant värld som presenterades och jag kände, som med Linkruus andra berättelser, att jag ville ha mer; det hela kändes så förhastat och ofärdigt.


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Snöflingor av Marita Hallenberg Linkruus (3.5/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2015
Antal sidor: 10

Baksidan säger:
"Vi kan inte hjälpa honom på fjället. Du kanske kan övertala honom att flytta ner till byn?" 
Hon hade knackat på dörren till stugan, väntat sig att möta sin far, stor och ståtlig, men framför henne hade stått en alltför gammal gubbe, han såg då bra mycket äldre ut än sextiotre, böjd och rynkig, liten, som om han krympt. Hon hade torkat bort en tår ur ögonvrån; det var väl vinden.

Hon har inte varit hemma på mer än tjugo år. Livet kan vara oförsonligt och hon har insett att hon inte vill vara det.

Jag säger:
En kort berättelse där språket och känslan de förmedlar tar större utrymme än berättelsen i sig, som ju egentligen inte är så värst märkvärdig: dotter åker tillbaka till föräldrahemmet för att se till så att pappan lever och väl där inser att det ibland är bättre att förlåta och bygga en trevligare framtid. 

Jag tycker verkligen om Linkruus och hoppas att hon i framtiden skriver något längre. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Proposal by Anton Chekhov (4/5)

First published: 1888-89
Original title: Предложение
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West
GoodReads says: The story tells of the efforts of a nervous and excitable man who starts to propose to an attractive young woman, but who gets into a tremendous quarrel over a boundary line.

I say: I didn’t like this as I was reading it, nor directly after. However, a few days later I found myself smiling to myself at the sheer absurdity of the story and have now talked myself into re-reading it to see if it really is great or if my memory is playing tricks on me. 

Lomov goes over to his neighbour’s house to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage, but ends up in an argument over land that leads to hilarious, and very unexpected, consequences. At the time of reading I thought Chekhov was being terribly silly, but this would be amazing on stage.

4/5 in hindsight.

Friday, 23 October 2015

On the High Road by Anton Chekhov (3/5)

First published: 1884
Original title: На большой дороге
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West
The back says: No synopsis available...

I say: The play takes place in Tihon’s bar where the usual suspects hang out; the ruined landowner turned drunk without any money begging for drinks, some pilgrims who only want to sleep but cannot seem to refrain from commenting on the goings-on around them, the owner whom nobody seems to listen to, and some other random people. There were a lot of different conversations and life stories, but the one that stuck with me was of the ruined landowner, Bortsov, whose wife deceived him and led him to drink. It was a sad story – if not an unusual one – and it did somewhat pain me the way that he was mocked for it. 

I say “somewhat” because I did laugh at some of the insults.
In fact, the best thing about this play were the insults and witticism such as this:

They try to cure every sort of disease, and it never occurs to them that more people die of women than of disease...”

3/5 because although I enjoyed it, the ends was predictable and sort of meh.