The 1924 Club: A Different Perspective


Simon’s tongue-in-comment on my post about Zamyatin’s “We”, to the effect that he was glad I’d found something Russian to read from 1924, actually led me onto some quite deep thoughts about the state of Russia in the 1920s. The country had been ravaged by years of conflict – the First World War followed by successive revolutions and then a devastating Civil War. The fledgling Soviet state was suffering from famines and shortages, isolated from the rest of the world and trying desperately to keep itself together as an entity. Amazingly enough, in the middle of all this the arts continued to flourish. The visual artists had embraced Constructivism which spread from painting and sculptures into film and theatre. Writers like Mayakovsky used their work for propaganda, slipping into agitprop posters as well as poetry and plays. The initial cultural boom would be crushed by Stalin’s increasing iron grip, but for a while the arts were in the vanguard.

I wondered whether I had any other Russian works on my shelves that would fit into the year we’re following, and hit upon the idea of short stories. I have a number of Russian collections but alas, many don’t give information about the dates of publication. But fortunately one did – “Soviet Short Stories”, edited and introduced by F.D. Reeve. Three of the tales featured in the book appeared in 1924 and so I set about reading them.

1924 soviet

The stories are Isaac Babel’s “A Letter”, Alexander Fadeyev’s “About Love” and Mikhail Sholokov’s “A Family Man”, and they’re all short and dramatic pieces. The first and the last are particularly strong, both telling of the harsh aftermath of the Civil War. Babel’s “A Letter” contains just that – a moving missive home from a soldier, revealing the dark extremes of behaviour. Sholokov’s brutal tale, set amongst the Cossacks, shows just how families were torn apart and turned against each other in an ideological war that really did rip the countryside to pieces. Both of these short pieces show the divides within families and how different generations reacted to the conflict and chose sides regardless of familial loyalties. Fadeyev’s “About Love” is a different kind of story, all about the contrariness of human emotions, and how we love someone more when they don’t love us and vice versa,

The war tales in particular made for stark reading – neither author pulls his punches and the visceral events and human impact is powerful. Fadeyev’s story has a bleakness less physical but still ends up making you wonder about the point of life and love. None of these stories was easy reading, but they did serve as a reminder of how different 1924 was depending upon the country in which you lived. Although all of Europe was recovering from conflict in different ways, it could be argued that the Russian people suffered more than most – a timely illustration of the fact that the 1920s were not all glitter and parties and jazz…

Easter Fun!


So, for some reason, Youngest Child has developed a passion for playing girls’ rugby – don’t ask me why, it wouldn’t be my game of choice and I live in terror of her coming home wounded! However, this means that she is off to France at the end of April to play in a tournament which necessitated a passport and therefore an interview in Chelmsford on Saturday – since this is our nearest passport office as the local one has closed due to government cutbacks (grrrrr……)

However, this did mean that we had a little family jaunt, as we decided to make a day of it and dragged along Eldest Child and Middle Child (who is home for the weekend). Plus it’s always fun travelling on trains, and Middle Child is brilliant at working us out the best deal!

I’m sure I’ve been to Chelmsford at least once, and I’m sure it was probably at least 30 years ago, but I couldn’t actually remember anything about the place, and it took most of the day to get any sort of handle on the layout of the city. However, there were a few charity shops lying about the place so there were a few browsing opportunities! I picked up a couple of minor books, but my happiest finds were in a very well stocked and organised Oxfam book shop – I could have spent a lot of money in there (vintage green Penguins, Folio Society editions), but restrained myself to a couple of essential volumes:


This hefty hardback contains everything written by Russian author Isaac Babel. I have one old Penguin volume of his stories, but I’d never seen this and so was delighted to stumble on it. It weighs a ton (well a lot!) and cost a little more than I’d normally want to shell out for a second-hand book – but Middle Child has a fancy phone with Internet on it, and she had a look for me in the shop and found out I’d have to spend at least twice as much to buy a copy online. So it came home with me (and gave me shoulder ache carting it around all day!)

The second book was a Dostoevsky:


I already have an edition of this, but I don’t really want it – reason being, it is translated by the dreaded Pevear and Volokhonsky which I didn’t appreciate when I picked it up for £1 in a local charity shop. I’ve rambled on a lot about translation recently and I’m dead set on finding versions I’m happy with, as I realise now how important it is to choose the translation of a book that works for you. P/V haven’t for me so far, and this nice fat book is translated by David McDuff. I have other volumes translated by him and this will give me something to compare with the P/V version. Alas, this was equally heavy and so I was rather pleased to get home!

A thing that struck me was how few Virago books I saw in the Chelmsford charity shops. They turn up regularly in local ones, either older greens or newer covers, but I came across a half a dozen at most, and these were mainly modern covers and common titles I already have. I did pick up a collection of sci-fi essays by Margaret Atwood, but that’s all. So this makes me appreciate my local stores even more!

Easter itself was peaceful and lovely, and I didn’t even notice the absence of chocolate, as Other Half, knowing of my current Russian obsession*) spoiled me by presenting me with a gorgeous vintage Russian lacquer box – what a sweetie!



* I say “current” but that’s slightly incorrect, as I’ve been obsessed with Russia and its culture since I was about 12 – so there you go!

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