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Stories (1889)

by Anton Chekhov

Other authors: Richard Pevear (Introduction), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)

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1,5411311,480 (4.36)45
Called the greatest of short story writers, Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition.

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The name Chekhov had danced around my head for years as someone who is interested in books. I guess I always thought he was a Henry James or Rudyard Kipling type - not exactly my cup (samovar?) of tea. I was of course, wrong. Like some of his contemporaries/compatriots in 19th and early 20th century Russia, Chekhov displays an incredible ability to inhabit the mentality of the most disparate characters. Sure, a lot of the people in these stories follow patterns - disillusioned intellectuals, bored women, morbid middle-aged men. It seems Chekhov was searching for analogues for himself and the people close to him. And yet, other characters who seem to be far away from the life of an accomplished writer are depicted with empathy and dignity. As a doctor, Chekhov had opportunity to interact with many different people who sought him out for treatment, and in the process of soothing their ills probably had greater capacity for empathy than the average person. It’s this background that may account for the tremendous love of humanity that shines thru in even the bleakest stories here. I’m currently reading Janet Malcolm’s Reading Chekhov, and in it a person close to Chekhov (I can’t recall who rn - one of his brothers?) describes him as having from a young age a kind of “sourceless maturity”. Despite the depressing circumstances of these characters, and despite the sharp eye that Chekhov can turn on those figures and parts of society he doesn’t like, there is a kind of preternatural, holy forbearance in the author’s voice that gives these stories a special beauty.

One other part of the alchemy that makes these stories masterpieces in Chekhov’s skill as an editor. The best stories here are the shorter ones - lean and laconic, you can feel the amount of background detail sketching that he must have done to attain the crystalline perfection of his descriptions. The stories often end in medias res, on an image or ambiguous line of thought, all heightening the mystery and ambiguity of life, that rarely affords us any clean break, besides that of the final, cleanest break into the darkness of the grave. ( )
  hdeanfreemanjr | Jan 29, 2024 |
Not sure what to think. I had trouble “enjoying” these stories, but I guess that’s not what were meant for anyway. I felt like maybe I didn’t care for the translation, I certainly don’t know Russian so I couldn’t speak to whether it’s a “good” translation. An awful lot of stuff in the stories is clearly idiomatic so I’m sure that’s a challenge to translate. I wonder how Huckleberry Finn works in Russian? But I haven’t gone through the trouble of hunting up a different translation to compare. Well, actually I read two of these stories as contained in George Saunders book “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” (and actually that refers to one of the stories) and I think I liked them better there. But maybe that was just the context, I dunno. I want to read more Russian works but I think I’m all set on Chekhov for now - and I def am going to try a different translator for my next book. (This book was translated by Pevear & Volokhonsky)
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
The best part of this perfect collection was the note on the back cover stating that Chekhov's personal favorite of his own short stories was "The Student," which happens to be my favorite as well. It's only four pages long, but it so brilliantly presents the philosophy that runs throughout Chekhov's work that it made me reevaluate my view of everything I'd read up to that point.

When reading these 30 short stories, it's easy to fall into a deep, dark depression if you're not paying attention. A lot of bad things happen in just about every story, but not in a contrived, contrarian way like in a George RR Martin book, because every character feels real, every mistake feels real, and every consequence feels terribly, inescapably real.

But that's also the place from which each story's redemption comes, in almost the same manner. Every character feels real, every struggle against the machinations working against humanity feels real, and every hope against all reason that the future might be better feels real because all those things are real. Chekhov knew it all and felt it all and could convey it all in one percent of the space it took for the greatest writers in history to do the same.

And the best part about what Chekhov did? Throughout all the pain and joy, successes and failures, and laughter and tears of all these stories, not once did he pass judgment on anyone. Not a single character. There was never the slightest hint of favoritism, sympathy, condemnation, or any moralization whatsoever. He took what he wrote and who he wrote about and said, "Here's how it is, and that's that. Figure it out on your own." It takes a great deal of self-restraint and humility for a brilliant man and author to refrain from intentionally sprinkling a few of his own thoughts into his work, and it takes even more skill to keep from doing it accidentally. Tolstoy couldn't do it. Dostoevsky couldn't do it. But Chekhov did it over and over again. Lucky us.

Though all 30 stories in the collection are very good, I picked out some favorites in no particular order:
"The Death of a Clerk" (which should have been called "The Sneeze," but whatever)
"A Boring Story," the longest story in the book and much better than the title would have you believe
"Peasant Women"
"The Black Monk"
"The House with the Mezzanine"
"The Student," which is my favorite
"Ward No. 6," "A Medical Case," and "On Official Business" are all great pieces that benefit from Chekhov's other career as a doctor
"The Fiancee" ( )
1 vote bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
Of course, I've read stories by Chekhov over the years, but this was the first time I set out to read a collection of his stories, although this and other collections have sat on my shelves for a long time. As I read them, over the course of several weeks, I grew more and more impressed with Chekhov's ability not only to provide deep insight into the characters of a huge variety of people and not only to convey a vivid sense of the natural world of Russia, but also to present to the reader just enough to capture the essence of the people and the places, almost impressionistically, and to do so with such great variety as well. Many of the characters he created in these stories will stay with me for a long time.

This collection, selected and translated by the team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is organized in chronological order, with Chekhov's earlier, more sketchy stories first, and the later more complex and darker ones towards the end. There are too many wonderful stories for me to list them all, but some of my favorites are "The Huntsman," the very creepy "Sleepy," "A Boring Story," "Gusev," "Ward No. 6," "The Black Monk," "The House with the Mezzanine," and "In the Ravine." Chekhov explores how people really treat each other, most often not as nicely as we would like to think, what they think about, and the individuality of each character. I am looking forward to reading more of his work.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Aug 3, 2014 |
Astonishing. Chekhov clearly understands how people work, and how to express it. I need to sit and think a while to process this further. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anton Chekhovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pevear, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Please NOTE: There are many editions of Chekhov's stories in many languages, all containing different combinations of stories. THIS work is the 2000 edtion selected and translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published by Bantam. Please DO NOT combine other editions with this one. Thank you.
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Called the greatest of short story writers, Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition.

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