A curious debut collection of linked stories by a young German writer who explores relations between his own country and...

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33 MOMENTS OF HAPPINESS: St. Petersburg Stories

A curious debut collection of linked stories by a young German writer who explores relations between his own country and Russia and various expressions of the Russian temperament, while also offering what seem parodies of--and homages to--Russian writers in both vignettes and fully developed tales that ostensibly constitute ""an ongoing discussion concerning the value of happiness."" Schulze prefaces the stories with a frame in which a woman traveling by train across Europe to Petersburg enjoys a brief encounter with a German businessman named Hofmann, who leaves behind him a manuscript containing these tales--which the lady passes to ""I.S.,"" urging him to ""lend these fantasies your name."" The stories, which usually but not invariably observe Russian behavior from a Teutonic viewpoint, variously present comic-grotesque evidence of a people notable for their ""vast hospitality"" (a woman doctor who administers highly unprofessional last rites, so to speak, to a dying old man is hailed as a ""saint""; street vendors seize a wealthy businessman and write their names and addresses on his body), desperate poverty (a widow without means prospers when an American named Nick--and who may be St. Nicholas--marries in succession each of her surviving daughters), and political passion (a widow Communist goes door-to-door defending the Party's ideals; a temperamental painter destroys his canvases because they don't portray the ""sufferings of his people""--yet, in so doing, embodies ""the despair of the artist""). Nor does Schulze spare his own culture. One story describes a naive traveler's (Hofmann's?) idealization of the prostitute he keeps encountering in hotels, and another recounts the unfortunate fate of a German restaurateur who seeks artifacts from the czarist period as decorations, and unintentionally awakens still-heated memories of WW II. A rather mixed bag, though Schulze's sardonic intelligence and feeling for cultural contrasts give these seemingly disparate tales a pleasing unity and coherence.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0375700048

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998