The Stories Of Anton Chekhov / Anton Chekhov

Don’t be fooled by the title of this book, it is not a complete collection of all of Chekhov’s short stories. Rather, it gathers together twenty-two of his most “characteristic” tales. First published in the Modern Library by Random House in 1939, the copy I am reviewing was republished in 1959. Readers of contemporary short fiction might be surprised that Chekhov’s stories are not plot driven. Instead, they tend to be descriptive slices of a character’s “day in the life.” Nor are they particularly short; a number stretch to novella length. For the most part they are detailed observations of Russian humanity, with a focus on the lives of ordinary people. Chekhov does not spend time moralizing about the actions of his characters. Because of his in-depth description of them, he makes their actions seem inevitable. Unfolding at a leisurely pace, these stories struck me as studies for possible novels the author explored and then set aside. Because of Chekhov’s detailed prose, reading this collection is like taking a time machine back to Russia in the 1800s. While the tales are usually serious, Chekhov leavens them with the use of gentle humor. The best story here is also the longest. The Steppe follows a young boy who is traveling across the Eurasian Steppe to a distant town to begin his education. It perfectly captures the thoughts and actions of a child. As seen through this young boy’s eyes, the reader is introduced to a cast of colorful peasants, who show us what life was like in pre-industrial Russia. By the time I finished this collection, I came to appreciate why Chekhov is considered among the elite writers of his time, and all that have followed.

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