Shiny New Books issue 6 is now live! (Yay!) And what an achievement it is – a wonderful collection of reviews and bookish pieces which should happily occupy any avid reader for ages!
I have provided a few items this time round, the first of which concerns a lovely new range of classics from Alma Books, the Evergreens. I go into more detail about the imprint on SNB, together with an interview with one of Alma’s publishers, Alessandro Gallenzi – you can read this here.
Alma kindly provided two books for review which I cover briefly on SNB, but I thought I’d expand a little more here.
Petersburg Tales by Gogol
Nikolai Gogol was one of the first classic Russian authors I read in my youth (once I had got over the joy of discovering Solzhenitsyn). “Petersburg Tales” presents four of Gogol’s best-known short stories: “Nevsky Prospect”, “The Nose”, “The Overcoat” and “Diary of a Madman” in fresh new translations by Dora O’Brien. I re-read “The Nose” recently, but coming to it alongside the others gives it much more depth and draws out the themes I found in it this time round. Superficially, these are nonsense tales, full of larger-than-life characters, strange goings-on, noses that detach themselves from their owners, ghosts and illusions.
When I first read them a long, long time ago, I saw them as humorous and quirky; this reading, however, opened my eyes to Gogol’s great artistry and sympathy for human beings. Despite the surreal elements, Gogol’s tales have a serious intent and he was obviously angry about the way Russian society was structured. All of these stories speak for the lowly people in Russia’s great grinding Civil Service machine; the struggling clerks who can’t afford a coat, can’t afford to fall in love with someone above their station, and to whom status is all. This is the thread running through these marvellous tales, and they’re still relevant today in a word where the divide between rich and poor is getting ever larger.
The Sorrows of Young Wether by Goethe
Goethe is probably best known nowadays for his Faust, but this book is the one that first brought him to fame. “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is presented in an updated version of a translation from 1957, previously published by John Calder (whose range is now under the Alma umbrella). The book is a highly emotive sturm und drang drama told in the form of letters from Werther to his friend, telling the tale of his intense love for Lotte, and her marriage to another. Werther is a young man with no direction; sensitive and something of a loner, he is sent away to stay in a picturesque village where he encounters Lotte, a beautiful young woman living with her widower father, and taking care of her many siblings. It’s love at first sight for Werther, but his love is doomed because of society’s restrictions and because Lotte is promised to another.
Even after her wedding, he never stops worshipping his beloved, becoming a friend of the family and trying to deal with the fact his love is doomed. In fact, it struck me reading this that Werther is probably quite an early unreliable narrator, as we see everything through his very emotional filter, and I wasn’t quite convinced that everyone surrounding him could tolerate his passion and moods as much as they seemed to!
“The Sorrows of Young Werther” is a florid and intense and extremely impassioned book, but nevertheless utterly absorbing – it’s not surprising it was so popular in its time, spawning a huge following and a whole cult of Werther followers even going so far as to dress like him (and worse…) A lovely book and a lovely way to lose yourself in romanticism for a few hours!
So, the Alma Evergreens (and indeed all their books – they have a very nice range of Bulgakovs!) are highly recommended. Check out their website here, and don’t forget to take your wish list over to Shiny New Books – there will be plenty of recommendations to add to it… 🙂