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The Suitcase by Sergei Dovlatov

The Suitcase (1986)

by Sergei Dovlatov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The narrator of this book, who shares the name and occupation of the author, left the Soviet Union with just one suitcase. Years later, he takes it out of the closet and each of the items in it gives rise to a tale about how he acquired that object, tales that illuminate life in the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s. For example, a pair of Finnish crepe socks demonstrates how the black market worked, a double-breasted suit depicts the workings of a newspaper (and a potential spy), an officer's belt reflects a stint in the army guarding a supposedly crazy prisoner, and a pair of driving gloves illustrate an attempt to help a friend making an "underground" movie. Each of the eight tales about an object could stand alone as a short story (in fact, one was included in the collection of Russian short stories I read earlier this year), but together they build a story of the narrator's life as well as create a picture of Soviet society.

As in Pushkin Hills, Dovlatov has a wonderful satiric sense of humor, and an ability to skewer pretension and hypocrisy in just a few words or phrases. I am definitely planning on reading more Dovlatov.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Apr 19, 2015 |
a collection of short stories highlighting the depressing life led in a former SSR, each story brought about via the memories of an item packed away long ago as part of the author's emigration from Estonia. Some good satire, but overall, not as well written as "the Compromise" ( )
  jsoos | Oct 4, 2012 |
If Dovlatov was a worse writer and the plot less interesting, this might be considered a dry, ham-handed approach to a memoir. However, Dovlatov, a master of presentation, provides a wonderful approach to placing before the reader a series of vignettes of his life in Russia before he emigrated. He opens the one suitcase he brought to the West many years-it was never opened-and relives how he came to possess each item. The stories blend from black market socks to conniving the Communist State into buying him a black suit, and on to other items.

While Dovlatov makes merry with vodka aplenty, there is an undercurrent of struggle and hopelessness not only at the bureaucracy, corruption, grandstanding, and moral turpitude of life under Communism, but also within the author's own life, hinting at times at some greater expectations never fulfilled. Dovlatov's true-to-life account and wonderful characters make it easy to not be too touched by the regrets the book weaves in among the funny and sad stories. ( )
  shawnd | Mar 2, 2010 |
I no longer lend books by Dovlatov to friends because they never come back.

Maybe his collections of short stories are not great literature but I'll grab one when a laugh is needed. ( )
  Jay_Huhman | Oct 10, 2009 |
You receive an exit visa from the Soviet Union. You leave within the week--and you can only take one suitcase. What would you pack? Which material things from your life are really important? What is better left behind?

Such is the basis of exiled writer, Sergei Dovlatov's masterful collection of tales chronicling his forced exodus from the Soviet Union. This text, in true Dovlatov fashion, quietly and humorously reflects on the parts of our lives that matter, on the connections that form our identity. ( )
  dheintz | Feb 21, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Zadie Smith wrote a whole novel White Teeth with a similar comic sensibility to Dovlatov's but it fizzes away relentlessly for over 500 pages and I do mean relentlessly. Dovlatov's Suitcase is much more laconic, more sparse, a collage of pinpricks that looks random, but, when you step back, actually paints a devastating picture of life in the madhouse that was Soviet Russia.

'I had once worked for a factory newsletter,' Dovlatov writes. 'My wife had been a hairdresser. There was very little that could still shock us.' Perhaps you have to live in a fundamentally, not just wacky, but evil system as Gogol did, as Dovlatov did to strike this kind of note of poker-faced levity. Dovlatov is a master almost Gogol reborn.

The mark of a book's ability to move, instruct and entertain is the way in which it is read. To say one can't put a book down is not the highest form of praise. It intimates that the prose is dispensable, that there are no turns of phrase worth relishing. A better book is one the reader would love to gulp down in one sitting, but chooses instead to savor. Sergei Dovlatov's new collection of interrelated vignettes, ''The Suitcase,'' adroitly translated by Antonina W. Bouis, fits into this second category. I predict most readers will roar through the first two-thirds of this novel, then, upon realizing there are only a few chapters left, stop reading in an effort to stave off finishing it. The final chapters will be hoarded and cherished, doled out one at a time as a reward after a bad day.

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sergei Dovlatovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bouis, Antonina W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cabal Guarro, MiquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trottenberg, DorotheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A Russian immigrant narrates the humorous events behind the acquisiton of eight seemingly unimportant possessions which he has brought with him to the United States.

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