The Red Tsar

October 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

Stalin the affectionate father. Stalin the charmer. Stalin the flirt. Stalin the benevolent friend. Hardly the images one associates with Joseph Vissarionovich Dzugashvili, better known to the world as Joseph Stalin. We grapple with trying to understand men such as Stalin because the distilled evil that he embodies is beyond our comprehension. But it’s far too easy to dismiss him as a sadistic, paranoid schizophrenic. By reading The Court of the Red Tsar a more rounded picture of the Georgian emerges: here was a man driven by belief (in Marxist-Leninist ideology) and ambition. Stalin believed in Russian chauvinism (Orwell was right when he said that nationalism arises in the periphery). He fervently believed in the ideology that his party espoused. Stalin was more like a local mafioso, as opposed to the demagogue that Hitler was, and that he knew he had to work his way to the top; maneuver deftly, look after his associates, and build his court. He was no plodding mediocrity. « Read the rest of this entry »


The Return of Philip Marlowe

October 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

After having ploughed my way through memoirs, biographies, and one volume accounts of battles I felt the need to settle down with something that didn’t take up too much mental capacity. And so I opted for the wisecracking, private dick Marlowe.

Lines such as these put a leer on my face:

From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.

I decided I could lose nothing by the soft approach. If that didn’t produce for me—and I didn’t think it would—nature could take its course and we could bust up the furniture.

A Russian Odyssey

October 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

My journey through Russia ends here. Here’s what I picked up on my travels. « Read the rest of this entry »

Of Human Bondage

October 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

There are ofhumanbondagecertain books that compel us to read them again and again. Of Human Bondage is such a book. Told in Maugham’s surgically precise style it loses none of the richness and depth that one expects from a bildungsroman charting the growth of a shy, sensitive boy born with a club foot. If anything, Maugham’s simple prose enhances the beauty of the book:

“It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”

« Read the rest of this entry »

Short Stories by Anton Chekhov

October 1, 2015 § 1 Comment


Forty Stories by Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov is one of my favourite writers. Though regarded as one of the twentieth century’s great playwrights, along with Ibsen and Strindberg, I find his short stories to be on par if not better than his plays. Like his compatriot Mikhail Bulgakov, Chekhov was a physician but turned to writing, at a very early age, to make ends meet. His medical career constantly brought him in contact with people from all walks of life, and for a man who revelled in the intricacies of the human condition this was a source of immense joy.

Chekhov began writing when the greats stopped: Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, & Tolstoy. His writing is very different from that of those who preceded him: his style is stripped to the essentials, simple, and direct. His characters are nobodies. They are people he might have met on his rounds or observed on the street. Everyday people. His stories serve as conduits for the life that each of these people carried within in them: their misery; their joy; their fears. From the bashful peasant woman who is overcome with happiness at meeting her husband who abandoned her years ago, the government clerk who sneezes on a general, the bride who comes to the startling realization of how empty her life has been, to the monk who chances upon a dead body being guarded by two peasants in the middle of the night, Chekhov’s writing portrays the beauty of life. From farce, to tragic, to touching, to joyous, to the bitter; his stories incorporate all these elements in depicting the world and the people around him, often within a few pages.

The great writer of the Russian soul. High praise indeed, but apt.

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