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Reading Chekhov
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About the Author

Janet Malcolm's previous books are Diana and Nikon: Essays on Photography; Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession; In the Freud Archives; The Journalist and the Murderer; The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings; The Silent Woman: Slyvia Plath and Ted Hughes; and The Crime of Sheila McGough. She lives in New York with her husband, Gardner Botsford.

Reviews

Recent biographies of Anton Chekhov, like Donald Rayfield's Anton Chekhov: A Life (LJ 2/1/98), have enhanced our understanding of this Russian genius. Now Malcolm (The Journalist and the Murderer), who has written extensively about psychoanalysis and other subjects, brings her considerable talents to Chekhov studies in a work that is a combination of biography, travel book, and literary criticism. Malcolm traveled to Russia, visiting the places Chekhov lived and his characters inhabited. In each chapter, she deftly takes us back to Chekhov's day. But she also relates her conversations with contemporary Russians, and her accounts of her Russian tour guides give the narrative a personal and sometimes humorous tone. She molds these individual episodes into a cohesive whole, bringing the reader wholly into Chekhov's life. It is not necessary to know Chekhov's writings to enjoy this splendid book, but it will serve to prod the reader to Chekhov's works and the treasures that await. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/01.] Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"One of the most gratifying things about Reading Chekhov is its quiet, vigorous defense of the prerogatives of criticism against the imperial banality of biography." --The New York Times Book Review

"[A] thoughtful and sensitive study . . . A great part of the charm and the skill of Janet Malcolm's book lies in the very Chekhovian way she mingles personal with critical comment, taking us not only through Chekhov's stories but through the removals and journeys of his life and her own travels in quest of his Russian haunts." --The New York Review of Books

"With the gentle inevitability of a balloon lofting skyward, the discourse effortlessly ascends from chatter to contemplation to genuinely brilliant critique. . . . With its balance of distilled perception and companionable spirit, Reading Chekhov embodies the same qualities it celebrates." --San Francisco Chronicle

Longtime New Yorker magazine writer Malcolm (The Crime of Sheila McGough; The Silent Woman; etc.) is known for her fearlessly opinionated takes on controversial subjects, from psychoanalysis to murder cases. This short meditation in 13 untitled chapters is a reflection on her reading of a favorite author, famed 19th-century playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov, in the context of a recent tourist trip she took through contemporary Russia. Malcolm's considerable investigative reporting skills reveal the expected squalor and fallout from the Soviet years, though she admits that she knows no Russian and relied on tour guides as translators (whom she describes mercilessly down to their bodily flaws). However, although Malcolm admits that she necessarily reads Chekhov in English, she does not inquire how much her own perception of the author results from depending (according to the slim bibliography at the end of the book ) on the Edwardian fallibility of translator Constance Garnett. She agrees with all biographers that Chekhov was an admirably humane man, writing prolifically to earn a living because he charged his peasant patients nothing for medical care. The anecdotes may be the more compelling stuff here, however, as when Malcolm squabbles with a curator of a Moscow Chekhov Museum, who does not wish to inform the inquiring American journalist how she manages to earn a living. Readers eager for a taste of the dismal tourist experience Russia offers these days trains, to no surprise, are decorated with "cheap and ugly relics of the Soviet period" and the food served on them is "gray and inedible" will snap up these concise, somewhat bitter musings. Fans of Russian lit may squabble with some of the heavier moralizing, but will appreciate this real example of a fan's notes. And Malcolm's many regular readers are a lock. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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