“A themed journal of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography and miscellany,” this issue is a “Chekhov Bilingual” comprised of an introductory essay by editor Tamara Eidelman; excerpts from “Notebooks” by Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), one of Chekhov’s contemporaries; a poem by Sasha Chyorny (1880-1932) “Why Did Chekhov Quit this Earth So Soon?”; and 8 stories and play excerpts by the great master, some newly translated. It is fantastic, even for those of us who do not read Russian, to have the originals and the translations side by side, and I wish more journals would follow suit and publish the originals as an integral component of presenting non-English work. I was delighted, too, to learn in the publisher’s note, that 1,000 copies of the journal were given to Russian language students at several hundred high schools and universities around the US, thanks to a grant to the magazine from The Ruskkiy Mir Foundation.
Eidelman’s appropriate and well-written introductory essay reminds us of Chekhov’s importance (“thanks to Chekhov, we understand the meaning of longing”), and of the breadth of his literary contributions and personal experience. Bunin’s journal excerpts, originally written in 1914, are especially appealing, recording Chekhov’s thoughts about writing (he advocated striking the opening and concluding lines of a story once one has finished with it, privileging the “succinct”); daily life (he advised rising early, not spending extravagantly, imbibing only modestly); and love (which gives you “far less” than you might expect). In Bunin’s writing, Chekhov comes alive as a man of his times, a teller of tales, an ambitious literary figure, a humble “worker” (as he referred to himself) composing hundreds of plots, and a master of metaphor—as a colleague and expert on Tolstoy, he is quoted by Bunin as characterizing the man as “a funeral cart upright.”
The stories speak for themselves and are a powerful reminder of Chekhov’s vast gifts and skill. It is remarkable how current, present, lively, and relevant these stories feel, even as they give us an understanding of moment in which they were written.
The journal is handsomely but simply produced, privileging the text over fancy graphics, but easy to read and designed for study and enjoyment, which makes it both an excellent classroom resource, as well as fine reading for anyone who appreciates good literary journals. Contributors’ notes provide ample, but not excessive, historical context, and include, as they should, information about the translators. This is an impressive and unusual journal that deserves a space in every university and secondary school’s library collection and in the mailboxes of serious readers, no matter their Russian language skills.