Translator: Richard Freeborn
Pub. Date: 1983 (1852)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genres: Russian Literature
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #6
I feel the need to say that I am in no way qualified to ‘review’ Russian literature, therefore this isn’t a ‘book review’ as such, but more like ‘a few thoughts’!
Sketches From a Hunter’s Album is a wonderful, beautifully written collection of short stories that depict life as a Russian serf. It’s a ‘lyrical almost magical account of wanderings in the Russian countryside’ yet it’s also critical enough to be seen as ‘inflammatory polemic’ that ‘led to his [Turgenev] arrest and confinement’.
Sketches From a Hunter’s Album is the first Russian book I’ve ever read. Shocking, yes? I’ve not even read a tiny bit of Anna Karenina. It’s also one of the oldest books I’ve read, published in 1852. It’s my sixth classic novel of the year, chosen (and loaned to me) by a friend. She thought I’d really enjoy it because I am a Sociology graduate.
Richard Freeborn, the translator, wrote a very helpful and interesting introduction to the book, which I used to put each story into context. My favourite short stories were Bezhin Lea and Meeting. Bezhin Lea made me realise that all the stories were connected to each other, when Fedya, who I’d been introduced to previously, appeared. Although, I have to say, I did find it rather difficult to remember and distinguish between all the different Russian names! The book is critical of the way peasants were treated, but more surprisingly to me, critical of gender inequality at times.
There’s also a jovial and humorous feel to the stories at times, especially concerning the consistent narrator (‘We did, in fact, reach the new village, even though the right front wheel hardly held in place and wobbled in a most unusual fashion. It almost flew off as we negotiated a small knoll, but my driver shouted at it angrily and we successfully descended the far slope’). I expected it to have a constant dark atmosphere, but as the narrator says at the beginning, it’s about ‘observing’ everything, including the beauty of nature, and how each character looks. The writing was so clear and descriptive that I could easily picture myself among the Russian peasants even though the environment is so unfamiliar to me.
I also found the translation amusing at times, especially when the characters sounded like they were from the east end of London (for example, from Singers, ‘A bloody idiot you are, mate, a right bloody idiot!’).
Sketches From a Hunter’s Album was my first venture into Russian literature and I thoroughly enjoyed it!