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Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov
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Pushkin Hills (1983)

by Sergei Dovlatov

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“Pushkin Hills” has a simple plot that really doesn’t go anywhere. Boris Alikhanov is an unpublished writer with an alcohol dependency, who is recently divorced from Tatyana and in need of money. To make matters worse, Tatyana is planning to emigrate to America with their daughter, Masha. Boris takes a job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve. Notwithstanding the thin plot, this autobiographical novella has much strength. Its tone is dark and ironic; it is filled with insightful observations on the Soviet culture, writing, censorship and emigration; there are humorous asides and crisp dialogue; and of course many delightful characterizations of the people Boris interacts with at the Preserve. ( )
  ozzer | Aug 31, 2015 |
In this novella, Boris Alikhanov, a recently divorced struggling writer (struggling mainly because his work couldn't be published in even the comparatively more open Khrushchev era, but also because of his fondness for drinking) takes a summer job at the Pushkin Hill Preserve, dedicated to the area where Pushkin lived and a destination for tour buses. One of the women who works there finds him lodging in a neighboring village in the completely dilapidated home of a man who stays drunk as much as possible, and he starts training as a tour guide. The reader learns from flashbacks in the form of Boris's reflections about Boris's writing, his meeting with the woman who became his wife and subsequent marriage, and the problems within the marriage that led to the divorce. Eventually, his ex-wife shows up at Pushkin Hills to inform him that she has made plans to emigrate to the west, along with their daughter; this sets Boris off on a downward spiral with a noted local alcoholic, but he manages to make it to Leningrad before they leave. One reason Boris doesn't want to emigrate with them is because he claims "In a foreign tongue we lose eighty percent of our personality. We lose our ability to joke, to be ironic. This alone terrifies me."

That's the plot. What makes this book special is Dovlatov's sparkling, albeit dark and often absurd, satire of Soviet culture - everything from the ersatz nature of the Pushkin Preserve (with objects from the era of Pushkin rather than ones Pushkin actually owned), the tour guides, the tour itself, the people who come on the tour buses, and the villagers to a KGB officer. And, oh, Dovlatov writes so delightfully, and tells such telling tales, capturing the essence of a character or a situation with a few well chosen words or phrases.

Some of this is semi-autobiographical. Dovlatov was also a writer, of course, and couldn't get his writing published in the Soviet Union, and he did work for a summer at the Pushkin Preserve. His father was Jewish, and this novel includes some exchanges that illustrate the instinctive nature of Russian antisemitism. And he did eventually emigrate to New York where he joined his wife and daughter, who has translated this novel (and provided helpful notes). I first found out about Dovlatov from a story in Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, and I would be happy to read more of his translated works.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Mar 31, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sergei Dovlatovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dovlatov, KatherineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, JamesAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"An unsuccessful writer and an inveterate alcoholic, Boris Alikhanov has recently divorced his wife Tatyana, and he is running out of money. The prospect of a summer job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve offers him hope of regaining some balance in life as his wife makes plans to emigrate to the West with their daughter Masha, but during Alikhanov's stay in the rural estate of Mikhaylovskoye, his life continues to unravel. Populated with unforgettable characters-including Alikhanov's fellow guides Mitrofanov and Pototsky, and the KGB officer Belyaev-Pushkin Hills ranks among Dovlatov's renowned works The Suitcase and The Zone as his most personal and poignant portrayal of the Russian attitude towards life and art. "--… (more)

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