Let’s face it, my memory is rubbish (I put it down to increasing age…) I have a lovely collection called “The Fatal Eggs and Other Soviet Satire), which I read pre-blog, and it contains four stories by Valentin Kataev. So I’ve read his work and I should remember it – but I suppose with the amount of books I get through, it’s inevitable that things get blurry… However, having enjoyed “The Grass of Oblivion” so much, I thought I would dig out the book and revisit them.
Actually, dig out was an apt phrase as it took a while to find the book. The Russian shelves have spread a bit, and I expected it to be with or near the Bulgakovs; it was, but hidden on a shelf below, though at least it eventually came to light.
The four stories featured all date from the 1920s, and the titles are “The Beautiful Trousers”, “The Suicide”, “A Goat in the Orchard” and “The Struggle Unto Death”. The satire is broad in all the stories, and in many ways they reminded me of Ilf and Petrov, and also Bulgakov – but as all of the writers were friends and relations, and were all in effect drawing from the same well of experience, I guess that’s inevitable. The first story deals with the food shortage; the second with the uselessness of products produced under the Soviet regime; the third, a short piece, cleverly shows how human nature stays the same whoever’s in charge; and in the fourth, bureaucracy and red tape goes mad.
The tales are all funny, too – “Struggle” in particular had me giggling – but there’s an underlying point to be made, of course, as these stories *are* satirical. In particular, the spectre of starvation and despair stalks the first two works and reminds the reader just how difficult it was in the early years of Soviet rule.
So Kataev is most definitely a worthy purveyor of Soviet satire; I just wish there was more of his work available. I do have his 1920s novel “The Embezzler” winging its way to me, and also a collection entitled “The New Soviet Fiction” which promises to have a late work by the author, but English translations are not that easy to find. It’s at times like this that I wish I was a Russian speaker…