I really enjoyed this collection of four of Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories – Diaboliad, No13-The Elpit Workers’ Commune, A Chinese Tale and The Adventures of Chichikov. The searing satirical, political and social comment which runs through his writing reflects a society in which labyrinthine bureaucratic challenges abound, where simple misunderstandings all too often escalate out of all proportion, and where people find themselves wrong-footed at every turn.
In each of these stories there are, to a greater or lesser degree, elements of the surreal as increasingly desperate individuals attempt to negotiate a hostile and unsympathetic system. The author’s powerful use in his writing of a combination of reality and fantasy can often feel as Kafaesque as Russian society must have felt in the 1920s, to the extent that at times I felt caught up in the characters’ nightmarish experiences.
Although there are moments of humour in the stories, there are also frequent examples of cruelty and absurdity so that essentially they are rather dark and disturbing. They are not, for the most part, easy reading but the focus and concentration required to savour the brilliance of the writing is amply rewarded. I know that I shall return to them with the certainty that any re-reading will stimulate new insights.
My thanks to Alma Classics for providing this copy for me to review.
978-1-84749-472-6|Alma Classics pbk April 2015
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