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The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-Three New Stories Hardcover – May 4, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Here's a treat for any Chekhov lover: a collection of 38 previously untranslated stories by the Russian master. Even better, these stories date back to the 1880s, when the author was still in his 20s and at his most prolific. That he wrote at all is something of a miracle--unlike other great Russian authors of his time (Dostoevski, Pushkin, Tolstoy, to name a few), Anton Chekhov was not a member of the nobility. The son of a bankrupt grocer, he entered medical school and became, at the same time, the breadwinner for his impoverished family by cranking out stories for magazines. His revolutionary approach to literature was apparent from the get-go. In "Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town," for example, Chekhov uses a string of telegrams instead of a conventional narrative to tell his story. ("Telegram: Have been drinking to Sarah's health all week! Enchanting! She actually dies standing up! Our actors can't touch the Parisians!") Even more unusual for 19th-century literature is the apparent lack of a plot. The telegrams are simply a collection of reactions to a single performance, from an usher ("Let in four. Fourteen rubles. Let in five. Fifteen r. Let in three and one madame. Fifteen rubles") to a doctor ("Last night I saw S.B. Her chest--paralytic and flat. Skeletal and muscular structure--unsatisfactory") to various members of the audience ("Darling! When it comes to Sarah Bernhardt, as the saying goes: you can dip a frog in honey but it doesn't mean I'll eat it").

All the qualities the more mature Chekhov is known for in his later works are apparent in these early stories: unconventional narratives, tremendous wit, psychological perspicacity, and above all that peculiarly modern interest in why human beings behave the way they do. Translator Peter Constantine's introduction gives readers both a good overview of Chekhov's life and a literary context for appreciating the stories collected here, but it is Chekhov himself whose remarkable brilliance will keep readers coming back for more. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

Unearthed by translator Constantine (Six Early Stories, by Thomas Mann) from the archives of the New York Public Library, these humorous tales, sketches and vignettes written by Chekhov in his 20s stand in the same relation to the later stories as his one-act "vaudevilles" do to his major plays. Appearing in Moscow and St. Petersburg magazines under such pen names as "Antosha" and "A man without a spleen," they display the overflowing energy of a young man exploring sundry genresAsatires, sentimental portraits, domestic comedy, impressions of the commonplaceAto amuse and to earn money. While the shorter sketches are near-anonymous hackwork, some of the later, longer stories reveal Chekhovian elements, such as a querulous elderly couple "hissing and growling at each other" while their daughter's engagement is being decided ("A Serious Step"). An ailing tutor trying to get a prescription discovers he hasn't enough money ("At the Pharmacy"), and a physician brooding over his colleagues can't assume an appropriate facial expression ("Intrigues"). Throughout, readers can see Chekhov training his eye for character and sharpening his ear for dialogue, as well as reveling in a surprisingly boisterous sense of fun. Sometimes the youthful humor explodes into a carnival atmosphere, as in a community's reaction to a tour by Sarah Bernhardt ("Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town"). These early stories, some of which have appeared recently in Harper's and the New Yorker, deliver the lightest of literary entertainment, with a glimmer of potential brilliance. (Nov.) FYI: Another Chekhov collection is noted below.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; Seven Stories Press 1st ed edition (May 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1888363762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1888363760
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,580,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sunil Govinnage on May 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
`The Undiscovered Chekhov' is a real tressure for Chekhov lovers. This is a collection of 38 stories previously untranslated to English-speaking readers. The original stories published in Russian magazines while Chekhov was studying medicine at Moscow University in the 1880s represent new angles in many ways. They provide great insights into young Chekhov's talents as an innovative and a gifted writer. Secondly, they represent Chekhov's early experimentations with narratives and techniques even before he became well known as a master craftsman of modern short stories. Thirdly, the stories translated by a gifted translator provide an excellent historical account of Chekhov's contemporary Russia.
As Peter Constantine records in his introduction the discovery of the original Russian stories at the New York Public Library is also an interesting story. The introduction provides an excellent background to the Chekhov's life, his techniques as well as background to some of the stories.
This collection is a rare gift for anyone who wants to know how a modern master story-teller had begun his career.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on July 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
The only elements holding these 43 pieces together are (a) they are short and (b) they are earlier works of Chekhov. They include character sketches, experimental literature, humor, groups of aphorisms ... all done with great wit and excellent writing. The translation is very readable; there is no sense of reading foreign syntax.
Examples of pieces in the book: "First Aid" is a short story in which the inepitude of the civil service/nobility kills a drunk "drowning" victim through folk medicine (tossing on a rug) and vague "CPR" instructions.
"From the Diary of an Assistant Bookkeeper" is a tale of perpetual hope of promotion based on the demise of the current bookkeeper given in the form of a diary.
"Questions Posed by a Mad Mathematician" presents the worst fears for a mathmatics test. Example: "I was chased by 30 dogs, 7 of which were white, 8 gray, and the rest black. Which of my legs was bitten, the right or the left?"
"Confession - or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter" is a bachelor's explanation of why he has never married - the disasters (from hiccups up) that have foiled each proposal.
The remaining pieces are as diverse and entertaining. The pieces are the best of over 400 short pieces available from the early period. Even if you don't generally read Russian literature you will enjoy these pieces.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Undiscovered Chekhov is a compilation of superbly crafted short stories by the Russian literary master writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), drawn from his work in the 1880s when he was a young man in his twenties. These witty and original short stories are very ably translated for an American readership by Peter Constantine, who discovered these literary gems in the New York Public Library while browsing through old magazines in the Slavic and Baltic division. The Undiscovered Chekhov is a "must" for Chekhov enthusiasts and an essential, core addition to all academic and public library Russian literature collections.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By harvey hadley on January 5, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Added nothing to my appreciation of the wonderful Mr. C.
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