St. Petersburg Stories
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 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 ofand homages toRussian 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 taleswhich 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 Nickand who may be St. Nicholasmarries 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. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-40029-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998


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