OURS: Scenes from Russian Family Life by Sergei Dovlatov

OURS: Scenes from Russian Family Life

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Slender, fitfully comic family memoir by Soviet ÇmigrÇ Dovlatov (The Zone, 1985; The Compromise, 1983). Dovlatov's relatives, drawn in spare, revealing strokes ("What I liked about my uncle was the great speed at which he moved"; "If a friend went to the toilet, my mother would stop whatever she was doing. From the changing timbres of flowing water, she would ascertain whether he was washing his hands or not"), are memorable mostly for their eccentric habits and fates. Grandpa Isaac, a deli manager and watch-repairman, was executed as a spy. Of Grandfather Stepan, the family misanthrope, Dovlatov reports that "one look from him and women dropped dishes." Uncle Roman went mad. Uncle Aron adored Stalin. For Dovlatov's mother, a copy-editor with "an ethical sense of spelling," misusing a hyphen "signified a low point in moral development." Dovlatov's father, an actor, now lives in New Jersey, playing bingo. Other short chapters look at the author's wife, daughter, and son. Despite some wry humor, none of this is really funny, perhaps because the shadow of Stalin and his murderous legacy darkens so much of Dovlatov's family history, perhaps because Dovlatov himself sounds dislocated and bitter in his new home in Queens. Life of Riley, Moscow style. Diverting, but with a sour aftertaste.

ISBN: 1-55584-281-X
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
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