Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not knowing how to live

Hey look guys, I read another Russian book! Who is surprised?

Oblomov tells the tale of Oblomov, a man who really doesn't want to live life to the fullest. He'd rather take a nap after diner and leave those errands for tomorrow, or maybe next week. He is a land owner who knows nothing of his country estate; he lives in town with his personal servant Zahar who does everything for Oblomov. A childhood friend, Stolz, tries continually to get Oblomov out and into the world. Oblomov drags his feet the whole way until he becomes infatuated with Olga.

What is interesting to me about this book is that if Oblomov was alive today he would probably be diagnosed with some type of social anxiety issue. Day-to-day functions of writing letters and reading books just are too much for him. However the root of his problem seems to be that his ideal life is one where he just lays around and is taken care of by loving servants and family.

"Oblomov's youth had been spent among companions who knew all about everything and believed in nothing."

Even when he falls in love, Oblomov can't imagine doing all the work Olga expects him to do. She thinks he should check in with his estate to ensure the serfs are paying proper taxes, make sure the house there is suitable for them to live in, and get out of his contract for his apartment before they can tell anyone about their engagement. He does have moments where he is able to get up and get something done, but truthfully I think he expects to laps back into laziness once they are married.

"He felt that the light cloudless festival of love had gone, that love was, indeed, becoming a duty, that it was mingling with his life as a whole, forming part of its everyday functions and gradually losing its rainbow coloring."

Olga realises that this love affair cannot be and eventually breaks off the engagement. She gets majorly depressed and goes abroad with her aunt where they run into Stolz, who, of course, realizes that he is in love with her.

Olga's fate makes me a little sad. She is an intelligent and curious woman, and while she gets her happy marriage to a man she loves, she is never satisfied with life. She gets depressed due to feeling that she should be doing more with her life. Her husband, Stolz, talks her through everything and does his best, but I just feel like she was one of the poor women who had to suffer with the times. I mean, throughout the book, a man had to read books before her and decide if they were something she should read or not.

While Olga makes Oblomov run around, his new landlady is content to take care of his things and feed him. She, Agafya, is the polar opposite of Oblomov, she never sits and is always working on something. She doesn't think of rest because there are things to do and work makes her happy.

"He looked at her with slight agitation, but his eyes did not shine or fill with tears, his spirit did not yearn for the heights, for heroic deeds. All he wanted was to sit on the sofa and watch her elbows."

I loved the exchanges with Oblomov and his servants, especially Zahar. They had the ability to be so contradictory and would take everything to the extreme, swearing to God that they didn't even know the name of a neighbor they had just been caught gossiping with.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fate with a document? A rare combination

Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favorite authors. His best known work, The Master and Margarita, has remained my number one favorite book for years. The Fatal Eggs is a lesser known work of his; my dad picked this up overseas and gave it to me. It is about the same length as his Heart of a Dog, which I reviewed early last year.

There are a lot of similarities between The Fatal Eggs and Heart of a Dog. Both are about scientists that perform controversial experiments that go horribly wrong by going right. In The Fatal Eggs, our scientist, Persikov, discovers a ray of light that increases growth in frog eggs exponentially. Frogs the size of cats are hopping around his laboratory. Persikov is a character that can't see the larger implications of what he is doing and is very annoyed when anyone asks him to think about them.

Because this takes place in communist Russia, the government, represented by Comrade Alexander Semyonovich Faight, takes the ray into their own hands. Faight does this because all of the chickens in Russia have died off from some unknown illness and the other countries are laughing at Russia. However, what hatches from Faight's eggs is not quite the Frankenstein chicken I expected. It's better.

"Alexander Semyonovich brought the flute up to his lips, have a horse squeak and, gasping for breath at every second, started to play the waltz from Eugene Onegin. The eyes in the greenery immediately began to burn with an implacable hatred for that opera."

I thought that this book was very good. This book seemed to have more direct government influence than Heart of a Dog and in this book the scientist doesn't learn anything from his actions. This edition of the book has a great foreword by Doris Lessing and is translated by Hugh Aplin. Normally I am a bit of a snob when it comes to Russian translations and like to stick with Pevear and Volokhonsky, but I thought that Aplin's translation was well done. There were some footnotes that were helpful, however to get a full understanding of the work I think you need at least a basic understanding of what was happening at Russia during this time.

"All Moscow rose, and the white sheets of the newspapers dressed it, like birds."

This is a quick read, only about a hundred pages. If nothing else, it teaches the importance of reading the shipping list on all packages delivered to you, especially if you are a crazy scientist.