This week I read stories by Gogol, Emant, and Zweig. These are all European authors I was inspired to read because of the Reading Europe challenge hosted by Mark at Booktime with Elvis.
In the challenge, each participant has their next read chosen for them by the play outcome of the UEFA tournament. I was assigned The Ukraine as my country and chose to read Gogol, who was born in what is now present day Ukraine but was part of the Russian Empire at the time of his birth.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed his short story The Overcoat about the life and death of an unassuming, downtrodden government clerk and copyist in the Russian capital of St Petersburg. It was easy to imagine the life of Akaky Akakievitch Bashmachkin, who seems never to be able to catch a break and who has little joy in his life. He’s a dedicated employee but also one who is never given much credit for his hardwork, and then there’s a turn in the story when he has to swap his threadbare coat for something new and warm before the next harsh winter. Things take a turn in this story and it pivots wonderfully from a tale of the everyday man to a ghostly tale. Hopefully this is enough information to tempt you into reading the story yourselves, and since the copyright is no longer in effect for this classic I read a free version of this story via Project Gutenberg.
If you’ve actually already read this story and are keen to hear an in depth analysis going into every aspect of the story from start to finish, then I can highly recommend the story discussion by The Codex Cantina linked in my video description below.
Ukraine lost to Netherlands in a really exciting match, and that meant I had to go on to read a Dutch author. I originally picked Multatuli’s Max Havelaar, but soon realised that the books wasn’t only over 300 pages long but was made up of really small text and I was unlikely to finish the story before the
next match. So I decided to save this book for next month, but I’ll share with you the premise
Read the back of the book
I’m certainly looking forward to reading this book, and in the meantime for the reading Europe Challenge I decided to pick up The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories which was pulled together from a range of authors by Joost Zwagerman, himself a utch writer, poet and essayist, who sadly took his own life in 2015.
The prologue of this book highlights that this is a collection of stories filled with melancholy and an underlying wry humour. The blurb promises These short stories contain some of the most groundbreaking and innovative writing in Dutch literature from 1915 to the present day, with most pieces appearing here in English for the first time.
I read the first story which is The eccentric by Marcellus Emants. For me the story had hardly begun and then I found it was over. The eccentric is referred to by a single letter of the alphabet and that is Zee or Zed. This man is very sparing with how he expends his energy and looks at most of the world as being rather inefficient in their endeavours – wondering what possesses man to do the sort of things that take away his total peace of mind, like having children and falling in love. I’d love to hear what others thoughts of this story because in the fleeting space between start and finish I had the sense of the aspects of life being carved up and weighed up on scales and there’s almost this swing between the up and down where it feels like a sweet spot lies between what the majority of the world do and what the so-called eccentric does, and that sweet spot is something that can be elusive and either side of that aren’t we all just a little non-sensical?
If you’re interested in my other reads in June do check out: