The first English translation of the desultory, digressive recollections—originally published in 1933—of the youngest brother of the celebrated playwright, novelist and short-story writer.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, who died of tuberculosis in 1904, grew up in a family that struggled to survive and lived apart for a time while the father looked for work in Moscow after departing the countryside, where his family had risen from serfdom. Eventually, the artistic, intellectual family reassembled, and the boys, though struggling financially, found ways to pay for their educations. Anton became a physician, a profession he never completely surrendered, and then the writer whose stories and plays continue to delight and illuminate. The text here is nothing like a contemporary memoir. There is very little about anyone’s inner life—even Anton’s marriage occurs offstage in several swift sentences—and the author, though he proceeds chronologically, pauses often to append asides on a variety of subjects, including visitors to their house or his own struggles and successes as a writer. He sometimes gets dates and places wrong—the translator makes corrections in the endnotes—and avoids analysis of Anton’s work. He does tell the story of an actual shooting of a seagull that may have been the genesis of that eponymous play, and talks about how Anton met with Tolstoy—but nothing about what occurred. Still, there are memorable images that give us a taste of what a frisky, playful prankster Anton was before TB struck him down. He once went fishing with a friend in formal tails and top hat; he startled another sleeping friend with a flashlight in the face; he kept a pet mongoose that alarmed visitors.
A work invaluable for what it says, frustrating for what it does not.