Many things vanished, even very necessary ones.
Alexei Remizov was an author of literary modernism and an expert calligrapher. He was a great Russian writer of the Russian symbolist movement, which I know little about, and read that it was an intelligent and artistic movement at the end of the 19th century. It was its own branch from European symbolism. Writing about feelings rather than reality. It states within this collection that the author gave up his Marxist beliefs and “became completely immersed in philosophy, cosmogony, and Slavic mythology.” He also put a lot of stock in dream divination and having read Martin Zadeka, the dream musings were wonderful. Alexei was imprisoned and exiled himself in the North Russia, with the information provided before reading it helps to imagine where the seeds for his writing were planted. These stories are bizarre, old customs I know nothing about, folk tales, the Orthodox Church, mysterious happenings. The truth is, much of the meaning is likely lost on me but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. His pen was masterful in creating eccentric stories, if this collection is any evidence, borrowing from medieval Russian literature. He wrote his own versions of old Russian texts, as warnings, as lessons, sometimes humorous and horrifying tales, some that were in pre-Christian tradition. Food for ever curious minds, ‘suspicious curiosity’ that is.
In the stories there are connivers, inseparable lovers, destiny, the will of human beings, the confusion of fate, death, long cold winters, shoemakers, the revolution, peasants, and a long suffering grandmother. It is this grandmother’s beloved Petka (the little scamp) that broke my heart. Trouble comes for he and his grandmother, with the turn of each page and not even crossing herself when she hears the sound of shooting like thunder, can protect them from a world of hurt. There are so many kinds of poverty, none like the poverty of the heart.
Sacrifice is the theme in the old Borodin house where Pyotr Nikolaevich, joker and eccentric with the odd, pale face lives as if undead. Though a man with strange passions for looking at dead bodies, he is adored by his wife Alexandra, who saves the home from ruin. Then comes the sorrow, the coffins, the funerals. Corpses, rumors, death, the blessed house becomes filled with “anxiety and eeriness”. In The Little Devil, there is a holy fool known as the Drowned Man, and pagan practices. An old woman, who isn’t truly old, falls in love which leads to the casting of a spell. Wanting can be a thing to fear. Children are troublesome or sick but Deniska keeps his sister entertained with his long and cruel stories. The two share a great dislike for the exterminator, the feeling is mutual. The man sees evil and filth everywhere, and he has his own deep secrets. People learn that a witch is better than all the riches in the word in a later story.
A collection populated by people expecting something horrible and unusual, which life readily delivers. The devil is always waiting, all it takes is a thought, and he will “come in a black whirlwind.” Not all hearts are evil, there are devout believers who remain steadfast in their faith. Intoxicating desire heats up in Princess Mymra when Atya is drawn like a magnet to the lodger in his family’s apartment. The boy cannot stop wandering into Klavdia’s room, this irresistible mistress who brings new life to everyone. There is humor in the boy’s innocence, one can’t help but feel for him. The stories are rich, the writing is beautiful and certainly there is an audience for it.
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Columbia University Press