Friday, March 08, 2013

Review of "The Suitcase" by Sergei Dovlatov - A Memorable Peek at Life in the USSR

Since my college days, I have been a voracious reader of Russian authors, especially the great classical novelists.  I recently read and reviewed a book by a contemporary Russian author, and had an e-mail conversation with a close friend who lives and works in Moscow.  When I told him the name of the author whose work I had recently completed, he sneered and said, "Here in Russia, we consider this 'airport reading.'  If you want to read a more modern Russian novelist, you should tackle Sergei Dovlatov."  So, based on Vasya's recommendation, I ordered a copy of "The Suitcase."

In reading this small novel, I experienced feelings similar to those I felt in reading Tim O'Brien's iconic book, "The Things They Carried."  As was the case with O'Brien's book in demonstrating what it was like for an American to fight in Vietnam, each object described in "The Suitcase" evoked a deeper understanding of what it meant to live under the Soviet system.

The conceit of the book is that the author has emigrated from the USSR to New York, carrying with him only a single suitcase, which he promptly stows in the back of the closet in his NYC apartment.  A few years later, he has occasion to rediscover the suitcase.  As he unpacks it, each of the eight objects prompts him to launch into a vignette that describes how he had acquired the object, and its meaning in his life - and by extension - its connection to life in the USSR.  The book is a small gem, full of irony, self-deprecation, insight, humor and pathos.  "The Finnish Crepe Socks" chapter is a wonderful example, leading to the unraveling of a tale of black market entrepreneurship run amok in a rapidly changing world in Russia.

I cannot wait to order my next example of Dovlatov's writing and wit.

Thank you, Vasya!


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1 comment:

Mitchel Roman said...

What is it that you like about Russian literature over other genres, cultures, etc?