From the first page of this revelation of a novel we know it is not going to be like any other nineteenth century Russian tale we have read. Central to this is the writer’s superb voice – light, mocking of authority and conventional wisdom, yet patiently understanding of the characters’ foibles and flaws.
It rests on the sort of central device that drives many novels: an outsider arrives in a community and unexpected interactions, challenges and scandals ensue. But the difference here is that this device is employed by a very accomplished, gifted writer who happens to be female. Which means we get to return to the drawing rooms and usadbas of Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky without those fellows in tow, giving us a refreshing new take that is neither preachy nor political, and decidedly more fun. (Disclaimer: The translator of this novel is our own translations editor, Nora Favorov.)
The main character, the accomplished and capable noblewoman, Nastasya Ivanovna Chulkova, has no interest in enlightenment or analysis. She just wants her estate to work at a profit and for everyone to be happy. Yet her own happiness is hardest to come by, because she is far too worried about what others think. Her daughter, Olenka, meanwhile, is a flighty, flirtatious, and restless young woman who feels claustrophobically confined in their little town, and is not at all convinced that she needs or wants to be married.
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