Short stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko Automatic translate
Zoshchenko was born in 1895 in Ukraine and was a Soviet writer. He was a member of the Serapion Brothers literary group, whose members were strongly influenced by the works of science fiction writer and political satirist Yevgeny Zamyatin. Humor gradually became an integral part of Zoshchenko’s stories, but in the earliest stories he used his experience in the Civil War in the Red Army against the Whites and in the First World War.
In the 1920s he became a popular satirist, and his short story collection Galosha and Other Stories was a witty critique of the poor living conditions of the people under Soviet rule, although he never directly criticized the government itself. Instead, his stories discussed issues such as an oppressive bureaucracy, a crumbling housing system, rampant corruption, and food shortages.
Sixty-five satirical stories in the collection are written in a dispassionate and simple everyday manner, which makes them easily accessible to ordinary people. In Shostakovich and Stalin, Russian journalist Solomon Volkov quotes Zoshchenko as saying: “I write very compactly. My sentences are short. Available to the poor. Maybe that’s why I have so many readers." Some critics argue that the very style of his writing was a defiant revenge on the Soviet Union for accessible literature.
In the story "Poverty" by Mikhail Zoshchenko, the narrator talks about the time in Russia when "electrification" was the most fashionable word. At the insistence of the hostess, the author also brought electricity to his house, which was previously lit only by kerosene lamps. And then he saw in what poverty they all live. Previously, kerosene lamps only illuminated small areas, while electric lamps illuminated the entire area, and they saw how disgusting and dirty every centimeter was.
The mistress of the house also realized how poor she lives when she saw what kind of dirt surrounds her. One day, the author spent a huge amount and cleaned his house, but to no avail, because the owner was too depressed that her apartment was dirty and cut off the electricity. The author’s money was wasted.
In this story, the author lost one of his galoshes on a tram. When he noticed that his galosh was missing, he took out another galosh and wrapped it in paper. The next day he went to the tram driver and told him about the lost galosh. The driver said that the tram depot has a bureau of lost things.
He went to the bureau and asked for his galosh. They had over a thousand lost galoshes, and when the author gave them a detailed description of his lost galoshes, they were out a minute later. When he asked, he was told that he needed to get a certificate from the house management.
He went there and asked for help. They asked him to write a statement and issued a certificate, which he showed to the bureau and received back his galosh. He was delighted with how smoothly the bureau works, but in the meantime he lost his first overshoe, which was wrapped in a newspaper, and he cannot remember where he lost it. He regrets that he did not lose her on the tram, because then he would definitely be able to get her back.
Monkey ("The Adventures of the Monkey")
Ironically, it was the nameless monkey in the story written for children that brought the author the greatest danger in Stalinist Russia, when the story was attacked as an allegory against the Soviet Union.
A monkey escapes the zoo after being bombed by the Nazis. Her adventures of exploring the city (Leningrad) eventually force her to return to the captivity of the zoo instead of living in ordinary society.
Vasya reluctantly persuades the actor to take on a small role in a theatrical production after the actor gets drunk. As soon as he appears on stage, all the audience recognize him despite the fake beard, and when he starts to fight off the actors playing thieves who are trying to rob him, the audience enthusiastically cheers him on. He does not have time to come to his senses, as what is happening in the play turns into a real life struggle.
Ivan Kuzmich Myakishev ("Electrician")
Myakishev is a titled electrician who works in the theater as part of a brigade. One day, he is treated "boorishly" by unceremoniously shoving him out of the way during a group photo. He vows to prove that the electrician is just as important to the production as everyone else by refusing to work with the lights.
Lebedev feels pressure from his wife, demanding the baptism of her daughter, and she, in turn, puts pressure on him, because her parents put pressure on her. Lebedev has no desire to see things through to the end, and when the time comes for the ceremony, he cannot restrain himself from constantly insulting the priest. There is a conflict.
The person receiving the photograph ("Photograph")
The unknown man at the center of this very strange story goes to take a picture of himself, but when he sees the result, he complains that he looks like no one else. An altercation with the photographer leads to the police intervening, finding out that the picture is not of his cheeks, and trying to find a photo that looks like him, which turns out to be a woman in disguise.
For the most part, Zoshchenko’s stories are very short, more sketches than full-fledged narratives. They belong to a specifically Russian literary form known as "skaz". And, again, for the most part, the stories are comical and presented through humorous narration.
The narrator most often speaks directly to the audience, and this also serves the purpose of ironic detachment. The ironic humor that is so common in stories serves another purpose: to disguise the serious meaning that each individual story puts into it. While these moments hardly stray into the realm of tragedy, they do sometimes cross the boundaries of melodrama, and the comic nature allows some of the often dark motives, actions, and consequences to remain morally acceptable.
The characters in these stories are ordinary people, often living in less than ideal conditions and struggling to make ends meet, but not necessarily poor and destitute. Therefore, the conflicts they face do not have tragic consequences, being a matter of life and death.
These conflicts are often minor in the direct sense of the word; people make a mountain out of a molehill. Yet these are huge problems compared to their own living conditions. The fact is that for the vast majority of people in the world, drama enters their lives not in the form of romantic adventures, but in the form of something that puts their life at stake. Significance is largely based on circumstances, which can change from day to day.
Ultimately, the author faced the full force of Soviet repression when it was found that his writings did not fully support Stalin’s bureaucratic administration.
In fact, politics plays almost no role in his stories, and he certainly cannot be accused of anti-Soviet polemics. However, most of his works are stories in which disenfranchised or disenfranchised people oppose petty bureaucratic power, whether landlords or acting troupes, and reveal the ghost of the machine.
Zoshchenko is an example of an author who poses a danger to a repressive authoritarian regime by writing stories that accuse through allusion. Combined with the distancing effect of his ironic storytelling technique, it becomes clear why it took so long for the Soviet authorities to realize what an influential social critic he had become by the time of his enormous popularity.
Like the Australian Henry Lawson, Mikhail Zoshchenko is a master of a special type of short story: a "very short story" or, as they are sometimes called, "vignettes". (Or, more rarely, "joke"). This is a writing style that cuts down on words, but not necessarily focus. For example, Lawson’s story "At the Edge of the Plain" has only about five hundred words, but it contains more information than many stories that are five times as long. In the same way, Zoshchenko, who, with his fast pace, with a thin paragraph, colloquial short vignettes, can tell more about the life of an ordinary person in the crushing mass of the bureaucracy of the early Soviet Union than one would expect from a Russian writer. (Because, you see, Russian writers have such a reputation that they take up almost half a page only by constantly repeating entire Russian names).
Although the Soviet master and the Australian master have a common talent for conveying a huge amount of information through what they leave out, the similarities almost end there, except for the patriotic pride on both sides. Lawson’s stories are about tough, stern individualists who become symbols of the founding of a new country, while Zoshchenko’s ironic aloofness serves to highlight the disillusionment of living in a society whose whole purpose sometimes seems to be to beat out the last vestiges of identities from fabric holding together.
Zoshchnenko’s story usually begins with a low-key, dispassionate introduction that often turns into a conversational tone, as evidenced by just a few random opening remarks:
“My friend, he is a poet, by the way, went abroad this year.”
“First, we would like to tell you about one funny case of bad luck.”
"This time, let me tell you about a dramatic episode in the lives of some people who are now deceased."
His secret to success as a short film writer is to immediately create the feeling of being addressed directly, like at a party, in the office, or while standing in line. People are crowding around, and suddenly some guy puts his hand on your shoulder and says, "Listen, you need to hear this, this is the funniest thing in the world."
Zoshchenko appeals to the spirit of community, as any good writer endorsed by the Soviet regime should, but he does it subtly, acknowledging your individuality. He writes in such a way that it seems as if he is speaking directly to you and only to you. You deserve to be told a personal anecdote that he sees fit to share.
This is an extremely valuable technique for several reasons. First, the very informality of his discovery immediately allows him to dispense with the limiting conventions of literature. Since you already know that we are talking about people you do not know, he does not consider it necessary to provide more biographical information than is necessary. Once done with that, he can throw the reader straight into the storyline. (Story is too complicated a word to describe what happens in most of his stories.)
Also, since you were deemed worthy to tell this story, you can immediately assume that you will understand what he is talking about. This means he doesn’t need to be told everything because you will be able to intuit the missing gaps. This approach has many subtle advantages for the writer (or reader) who doesn’t want to get bogged down in all those Dickensian backstories.
A final advantage of the anecdotal approach to storytelling is that it provides a solid foundation for Zoshchenko’s main literary weapon: irony. Although irony is now ubiquitous, it has long been considered so difficult to use in prose that it has become the domain of a few very special writers who excel at it: O. Henry, Ambrose Bierce, Saki, and, in long fiction, Edith Wharton. Not only can Zoshchenko be added to this list, but he can also be put in first place. His irony is not at all like the irony of O. Henry, whose trump card was an ironic reversal. The best Zoshchenko stories also end on a note of irony, but it is more subtle and therefore may not be as revealing as the twist that ends the classic O. Henry story.
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