Dozens of travelers in various states of tiredness, en route to destinations far-flung and close by, take refuge at an inn while the whirling snow buffets the window panes and threatens to become a blizzard. Sleepy chatter among the travelers lazily rises against the warmth of a large Russian stove until one man’s comment stops them all.
The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories · Nikolai Leskov · 1865-‘87
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Knopf, 2013 · 575 pages, hardcover
The story Leskov’s narrator tells, that of “The Sealed Angel,” taking place on the cold banks of a river and requiring the theft of religion (in more ways than one), is so far removed from the inn of these travelers that it’s a secret pleasure when someone interrupts the narrator, bringing us once more into the warmth of the inn.
The stories in this new collection of Nikolai Leskov’s work, selected and translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, vary in scope, tone and depth, but each of them comes wrapped up in this same brotherly feeling.
It’s a little sad to leave Leskov behind…the cozy samovar-on-the table/bast-shoes-under-the-bed kind of feeling he gives….Leskov wrote most of the stories in this collection as anecdotes, apropos of something said between travelers at an inn, among passengers on a boat or just so: he created characters and scenes for the purpose of introducing his stories, and he provided these characters with listeners (who sometimes interrupt, only making that cozy, chummy feeling cozier and chummier). The copy I have is from my favorite translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and is one for which I’ve already reviewed the title story, The Enchanted Wanderer, as it’s own piece).
Also publishing a review for the classic teleplay Twelve Angry Men. Disconcerting to read how cavalierly a jury could play with a man’s life. Rose wrote the play in 1954, when the Civil Rights movement was just barely starting to simmer. The way he slowly skins his characters down to their bones is masterful. Seventy-three pages, one setting (a drab jury room), no physical action…but the psychology of it is beautifully done that it hardly matters; its theatrical plainness is to its credit.
Estimated publishing dates are Thursday and Saturday (May 18th and 20th).
With its passages of simple brutality and deadpan humor, the morality of a man’s steadfast nature and a heavy layer of religio-mythic magic (that has just enough truth to lend credence to fantasy), The Enchanted Wanderer has the coziness of an old Russian folk tale and the insightful warning of an age-old parable.
Two minutes, $25-$30, one hardcover book and a thrilled heart overflowing with impatience and happiness. What’s the book about? Damned if I know; I don’t even know what the title is if I’m to be completely honest.
Some authors are just that good, and you’ll read anything they write.
I winnowed my own list of auto-buy authors to include living writers only lest it become merely another list of favorites (though I may have cheated a little with numbers 3 and 4).