Finally, a favorite writer for the letter И! I’ve had a collection of Fazil’ Iskander’s stories on my shelf since the ‘90s but never seem to want to pick it up... But Iskander’s Детство Чика (Chik’s Childhood) drew me in right away because its stories are connected by characters: a boy named Chik who’s finding his place in the world, his addled Uncle Kolya whose fishing tackle lacks a hook, and a group of neighborhood boys and girls.
I read three of the pieces in the book and particularly enjoyed the longest (of course!), Ночь и день Чика (Chik’s Night and Day), in which Chik has trouble sleeping at night – he thinks about fears, like scorpions – and then goes on an expedition with his friends the next day to harvest pine sap to make into chewing gum. Iskander’s writing is simple without being simplistic, and his observations about childhood create in Chik a vivid portrait of a boy who can be generous with other children, including a child teased for his disability, but sharp in his judgments. When Chik thinks about adult sneakiness, he reminds me of a young, Abkhazian Holden Caulfield.
I think what I enjoy most about the Chik stories is that Iskander presents a balance of information about Chik’s life and surroundings, including references to Chik’s knowledge of sociopolitical problems of the Stalin-era, like the arrest of a neighbor girl’s father and talk of wreckers, together with the childish joy of the pine sap adventure. That outing is fraught with hazards, too, like a band of neighborhood boys and a biting dog. In our era of play dates and safety, I’m sure many parents would disapprove of kids starting an outdoor fire to boil their pine sap! I should mention that I also loved the portrayal of Chik as a proud child actor – Chik does not lack in self-confidence – who gets demoted from a lead role to a nonspeaking role in “Чик и Пушкин” (“Chik and Pushkin”).
I’m setting Chik aside for now, saving the rest of the stories to read another time. By the way, according to Wikipedia, at least eight volumes of Iskander’s work have been translated into English.
As for other И/I writers… I enjoy Il’f and Petrov, particularly The Golden Calf (previous post), but they’ll never be favorites. And I thought many passages in Aleksandr Ilichevskii’s Matisse (previous post) were very good but the book didn’t quite held together for me. Ilichevskii’s Persian is on my shelf waiting (or weighting, since it’s thick?) for a second try. I’m hoping Ilichevskii’s listing on the Academia Rossica Web site means he’s one of the 40 (!) or so writers who will be at the London Book Fair in April.
I always enjoy recommendations on my alphabet favorites posts, so look forward to reading comments!
Up Next: Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Толмач (The Interpreter), which I enjoyed very much; I may need to add Gigolashvili to my Г/G favorites page. Then Olga Slavnikova’s Лёгкая голова (which I think I’ll call Light Headed, at least for now), a curious book about a brand manager at a chocolate company who is approached by government agents with a strange proposal.
Image credit: Abkhazian commemorative coin celebrating Iskander’s eightieth birthday, from Bank of Abkhazia and Sephia karta, via Wikipedia.