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The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback – September 1, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin (1870 – 1953) was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The texture of his poems and stories, sometimes referred to as "Bunin brocade", is one of the richest in the language. His last book of fiction, The Dark Avenues (1943), is arguably the most widely read 20th-century collection of short stories in Russia.

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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140185526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140185522
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By C. L Wilson on November 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
No wonder he won the Nobel Prize! Four hauntingly magnificent short stories, all but the third with death as the end. Or maybe not the end, but the raison d'etre of the story. "The Gentleman from San Francisco" almost half the book, translated rather badly, I suspect, in the version I read, by D. H. Lawrence; "Gentle Breathing", an incredibly subtle story; "Kasimir Stanislavatch", and "Son". In each, he takes the human tragedy and contrasts it with beautiful nature. His detail is remarkable. The stories are all short, plots not intricate or even eventful, but he manages to make each one simply live and breathe and have being. It rather reminds me of all Russian writers; they're all so tragic. What is it about being a Russian? And nobody remembers him as they do Chekhov, or Tolstoy. I wonder why. Perhaps his volume of writing was not large enough.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Buce on August 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the meditation entitled "Night," Bunin's unnamed narrator says: "Why did God choose to brand me so deeply with wonderment, thought and `wisdom', and why is that fatal mark constantly growing inside me?" Although the voice is abstract, I think it works as a description of Bunin himself. He wasbclearly a man with (again in his own words) "the capacity to feel with a singular intensity ... not only their own identities but those of other people...." And although he may feel that his capacity is somehow unusual, he does a remarkable job of imagining (or is it projection?) that capacity in others. Everybody, he says somewhere (although I can't put my finger on it), has a story that deserves to be told.

In his introduction, David Richards calls Bunin "egocentric." In context I think I know what it means, but it's an odd choice of words and I suspect misleading. Conceded that Bunin is not a "social" novelist in the sense that Tolstoi is, nor a dramatist like Dostoevsky: his metier is, indeed, the minute attention to feelings. In some sense I suppose these feelings are "his own," but in some sense, every artist's feelings are "his own." Perhaps closer to the mark to suggest that at some level every one of us is an egocentric, and that Bunin may be able to capture the egocentricity in all of us.

Caution: Bunin won a Nobel Prize, but don't be misled into disappointment. He's a fine and rewarding writer, but not better than several others who did not win the prize, the award of which inevitably has more to do with politics than with intrinsic merit.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on February 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm glad I returned to Ivan Bunin, whom I had not read since my early teens. Although some 25 years have passed, I could soon recognize the refined, poetic, and quiet style of this Russian author. This collection of 17 short stories, of assorted subjects and tonalities, includes several very remarkable ones. Among them is the story that gives the book its title, which tells of a nouveau riche's fatal family travel around the Mediteranean. Others are: "The Primer of Love", located in a remote Russian town, about the discovey of a peculiar book in the house of a recently deceased man; "Chang's Dreams", about a retired and alcoholic ship captain and his dog; "Mitya's Love", almost a short novel, a "slit your veins" tale of adolescent love and all the pain it may entail, as well as about the possible fatal consequences that the insecurities of young passion may cause. In the whole book in general, but noticeably in this story, Bunin's capacity for description, especially of a Nature in perpetual change, shines in astonishing and beautiful paragraphs. Sexual anxiety and the abrupt waking-up to carnal passion are constantly present during the narration.

"Night" is, in my opinion, a small masterpiece, actually more a prose poem than a tale, the reflections of an artist as he contemplates the sea from a terrace, on a placid night. It might just be the transcription of Bunin's own thoughts. Finally, "Zoyka and Valeria" is another stroy about juvenile love, with a countryside weekend as landscpae and another sexual initiation as detonator.

Certainly a great storyteller, Bunin has a fine, deceitful style: in spite of the apparent placidity and poetic beauty of the tales, these frequently treat asphyxiating, unnerving situations. Excellent edition of great stories.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on May 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Ivan Bunin's one major message is Horace's Carpe Diem. You should `enjoy your life, because you're earlier dead than you think.' `Even today people still marvel above all else at death and refuse to accept it.'
One of the characters in this book expresses it also as follows: `I'm suffering from a fatal disease. And I assure you that I go on living as if there were nothing the matter.' (`At Sea, at Night')

How should you enjoy yourself? By the prime of love (`Late Hour'), and one of its ingredients, sex: `When you love someone no power on earth can make you believe that you may not be loved in return.' But this love can also be violent (`The Riverside Tavern').
Sex is enjoyed in furtive encounters with `the shamelessness of the purest innocence' (`Zoyka and Valeria'), lonely women on a journey (`Sunstroke', `Visiting Cards') or plain adultery (`The Caucasus'). Ivan Bunin's eroticism is outspoken. He enjoys all parts of the female body.

Those who cannot enjoy life, those who don't master the art of love, those who cannot accept that love sometimes dies (`Mitya's Love'), those who cannot overcome the death of a loved one and those who go to war (`A cold Mountain'), are doomed.
Also doomed are the `Modern Men' with their stupid arrogance, like `The Gentleman of San Francisco', who forgot to live.

The longest story in this bundle is `Mitya's Love', Bunin's version of Goethe's Werther combined with elements of Tolstoy's `The Devil'. Mitya is Bunin's anti-hero because he cannot overcome an unanswered love. However, the story is not totally convincing. It is too long and the introduction of the sexual element is rather forced.

This book is a very worthwhile read.
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The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
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