Written after the fall of the Soviet Union, the novel, Skunk: A Life paints a picture as to what life was like during the 1950s in Soviet Russia from a post-Soviet perspective. The themes in Peter Aleshkovsky’s novel are classically Russian: he illustrates the internal moral battle that everyone must endure in a Dostoyevskian way, and the theme of nature leading one to find the truth in life is reminiscent of Tolstoy’s works. For that reason Skunk is a great segue from classic Russian literature into contemporary writing, focusing on current issues, while retaining grand literary ambitions.
Skunk takes place in the provincial town of Stargorod during Soviet Era. The main character, Daniil Ivanovich (or Skunk), is born fatherless to a woman devoid of motherly instincts and grows up under the care of his grandmother until her tragic death when he is five years old. He finds his grandmother prone on the floor, and after having made sure she’s actually dead, steps across her head to retrieve a snack while he catatonically waited for the milkman to come the next day. After returning to live with his mother, Skunk soon finds himself struggling for acceptance in an era where “the outsider” is not warmly received. Though, alienated and alone, Skunk seeks refuge in the wilderness and while living there he discovers his place in life and develops his individuality.
After a short stint back in the city, he returns to the wilderness and stumbles across a hermitage nestled in the most remote regions of the forest. Cut off from home and the rest of society, he seeks refuge in the monastery. Once again, he returns home only to find his mother dead and his one true love interest engaged. Hopeless and curious about his personal relationship to religion, Skunk becomes conscious of the fact that he cannot accept religion and once again retreats into the wilderness where he carries out the remainder of his life. He eventually marries a woman from the country, only to mistreat her and follows in the way of his mother’s many male interests.
Daniil has an easy life, knocs his already pregnant wife about a bit, and threatens from time to time to run away from her and become a forester . . . In her heart she knows that her brooding little husband, who is so gentle in bed, only really finds fulfillment in the forest.
In his constant mentions of monasteries and religion, Peter Aleshkovsky incorporates his life work of studying archaeology and restoring monasteries in Northern Russia. Skunk was shortlisted for the Booker Russian Novel Prize in 1994, as well as it should, for its wonderful depiction of society versus wilderness and its ability to revive classic Russian literature. According to the author bio, Aleshkovsky’s also the author of Stargorod, a cycle of 30 narratives about provincial Russia, and three other novels. The admirable Glas, which has been successfully delivering contemporary Russian literature to the rest of the literary world for years, published this translation. More info about Glas and their long list of Russian translations can be found on their website.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .