26 June 2003 by Published in: entertainment No comments yet

Let’s add that it’s hard to read other people’s souls: it’s dark and not everyone knows how to do it. Vague conclusions, attempts at answers — nothing more.

I’m not quite finished with On The Golden Porch by Tatyana Tolstaya. I’m on the twelfth of thirteen stories, though, so I think I have a good enough idea of what I’ll be getting out of this book to write a review, and so I will.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book of short stories. I’d forgotten how wonderful it can be to dip into a world just for a half hour, take in the sights, and then be on my way again. It’s a special treat when the worlds are as sumptuously appointed as Tolstaya’s. I’d also forgotten how easy it is to breeze over stories you don’t like if they are mercifully brief. Not all the stories of this book are of the same high quality. Some feel lost on the page, as though they’ve forgotten why they are there or where they were going. Most, however, are charming, engaging and thought-provoking. One of the best things about this book is that it’s indelibly Russian but without requiring thousands of pages to be so. I loved Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as a teen, devouring their works, but if I had to pick them up today I just wouldn’t have the time required to plumb their depths. This book is like little slices of Dostoevsky pie with sweet, and somehow sad, Tolstoy tea. Some of her core ideas are a bit repetitive, but the use of language is so luxuriantly rich that it seems a small sin, completely forgivable. And sometimes, in the middle of a set of ideas and characters you are convinced you read about in the previous three stories, she’ll suddenly rip aside a veil and leave you gasping with surprise. That these moments come infrequently is not a fault, as it would be painful to read a constant barrage of them. No, she has clearly orchestrated these moments with care.

I don’t think this book is for everyone, but if you enjoy Russian literature and flowing language, and think that these qualities compressed and cut up into manageable portions would be like a much needed balm for a busy life, then you will get much reward from this book. My favorite stories are probably “A Clean Sheet”, “Hunting The Wooly Mammoth”, and “Sonya”.

As a final note, I have had more ideas of things to write and think about while holding this book over the past couple of weeks than in the three months prior, and I can’t think of a higher endorsement than that.


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