Reading Chekkov I: “Vanka”

“Reading Chekhov” is the name of this game – a podcast experiment and safe indoor sport with, by all accounts, the greatest short-story writer of them all, the medical doctor who was also the “Cherry Orchard” playwright, Anton Chekhov.  It began last summer just for kicks with an Albanian actor and friend, Nijazi Jusufi, who had read Chekhov growing up.  It expanded to a circle of a dozen friends passing a book around in my living room.  Why?  Because Chekhov (1860 – 1904) is ageless and everywhere – “the voice of twilight Russia,” it’s been said, and one of the great pre-revolutionary visionaries – but also a literary influence on Joyce and all the moderns and still a contemporary, almost.  For many readers today he has the rare effect his friend Maxim Gorky observed.  In Chekhov’s presence, Gorky said, “every one involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more one’s self.”  The several actors in our group keep discovering, and demonstrating, that Chekhov’s phrases, scenes and lines keep expanding when they’re spoken aloud.  For me he has the further peculiar effect of inviting digressions as we go – conversations and asides about all manner of things, philosophical and emotional, and not at all specially Russian.  We begin with a tiny tale that has the feel of Dickens, about a 9-year-old orphan in Moscow, pining for his grandpa in the village, his only vestige of family.

Most of us are reading from the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky.  Listeners out there, we’d be delighted to hear your take on the story and on our impressions of it.  Leave a comment please on our new and improved website,  Next on our list, if you’re inclined to read ahead, is Chekhov’s little drama of a tramp, titled “Dreams.”

Mary McGrath produced and edited this first crack at Reading Chekov.  Special thanks to the audio master Jim Donahue who wired us all for sound.  And thanks to our chorus of friends and commentators in my living room.

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