Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Ours--A Russian Family Album, by Sergei Dovlatov

Mark Twain once said, “The quality of humor is the commonest thing in the world. I mean the perceptive quality of humor. In this sense every man in the world is a humorist. The creative quality of humor - the ability to throw a humorous cast over a set of circumstances that before had seemed colorless is, of course, a different thing.” The Russian émigré, Sergei Dovlatov, traces four generations of his family’s life with the circumspect of the truly creative humorist. Through the likes of Uncle Aron, Cousin Boris, Grandpa Isaak, and a terrier named Glasha, we discover the amusing, comical, incongruous, and absurdity that goes hand in glove with the very course of Soviet history. The chaos of the past is remembered and intermingled with a sense of recovery. Even though each life is unique, all lives are familiar to us. So with Cousin Boris, the boy who started with such promise, and was always held up as an example to Sergei (yet somehow kept ending up in prison), we get this—“ I finally understood the ruling trait in my cousin’s character: he was a natural-born existentialist. He could act only in extreme situations: build a career only in prison, fight for life only on the edge of the abyss.” And with Glasha, the terrier—“She was surrounded by esoteric poets, Suprematist painters, composers of atonal music, and sculptors of non-representational constructions. All of them were indefatigable critics of the regime, especially when in their cups. With friends like that, she could hardly have turned out politically loyal. Actually, she herself behaved no better. To be specific, she barked at policemen and generally hated all uniforms, whether on soldiers, sailors, or ticket collectors. Along with this, her displeasure was aroused by red banners and billboards bearing revolutionary slogans, and to top it off, she liked to relieve herself behind a certain building, at the base of a four-meter-tall portrait of Brezhnev.”

No comments: