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Monday, September 18, 2006

New Zoshchenko

The New Yorker reports that, fittingly, a new translation of the short stories of Russian satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko has just been published. What could be more timely, as the Neo-Soviet Union rises from the ashes of the USSR, that one of the Soviet Union's most acid critics should also reappear.

The Galosh, by Mikhail Zoshchenko, translated from the Russian by Jeremy Hicks (Overlook; $24.95). Though little known to English readers, Zoshchenko was one of the most popular writers in early Soviet Russia—a time when, as Hicks explains in a useful introduction to this collection of brief comic tales, satire was not yet prohibited by the authorities. Describing himself as “a temporary substitute for the proletarian writer,” Zoshchenko wrote in a deliberately simple style, filling his pages with corrupt officials, petty thieves, and confused bureaucrats. Hicks’s fine translations overcome tricky problems—one dénouement involves “Paris” being misread as a word written in Cyrillic—and successfully capture Zoshchenko’s knockabout use of everyday speech. Zoshchenko brought out the latent comedy of people’s adaptation to new ways. In one story, the electrification of an apartment building upsets residents who previously, thanks to the gloom, had not been able to see the squalor in which they lived.

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