THE LAUREATE: Ivan Bunin was born in 1870 on his parents’ estate in Voronezh in central Russia. He grew up living the life typical of a landowner. However, his father became a heavy drinker after the Crimean War and drank and gambled most of the family fortune away. Ivan’s brother Yuly went to college, but Ivan himself couldn’t be put through public high school. Bunin spent his twenties, thirties and forties wandering around and hanging out with writers writers like Chekov, Maxim Gorky and Tolstoy. Before the Revolution, he was hailed as the last great master of Russian fiction by a bunch of Russian authors. After the Revolution, he escaped Moscow by way of Kiev and Odessa and ended up in Paris. He became a sort of spokesman for expatriate Russians, particularly since his work was very much in the classical style. He was the first Russian and, as he noted in his acceptance speech, the first exile, to win the Nobel in literature. During World War II, despite friends in New York finagling approved passports for him and his wife to escape, Bunin remained in France and harbored Jewish refugees. Bunin died in 1953 in Paris, and his death was mourned with great ceremony throughout Europe. Incidentally, Bunin’s work was popular among young Russians in the mid-80s.
WHAT I’M READING: Wolves and Other Love Stories, a posthumous collection of (often very) short stories that span Bunin’s whole career.
REVIEW: We’ve all had an awkward, drunken hookup that we spent the next day simultaneously regretting and pining over. In modern American culture, and many other modern cultures, we at least have an understanding about drunken hookups; they are one among many possible relationship archetypes. In “Sunstroke,” Ivan Bunin describes that whole emotional process perfectly, but he does it in the milieu of Anna Karenina, that late 19th century era when the Russian Empire had its last brief cultural flowering. I dunno. I always find it fascinating when people in the past resemble us, if only superficially. So, Wolves… is a collection that runs the gamut of love: in one story, a couple escapes Moscow to spend New Year’s Eve in their unused manor house; in another, a young man spends the so-called white nights having sex with the older sister of the boy he tutors; in yet another, a student has sex with his uncle’s nurse, and she skips town before they can be ratted out. This is quite a set of stories.
RECOMMENDATION: I will personally be reading more of Bunin’s work when I finish this project and can afford to buy books again.
WHAT’S NEXT: Imre Kertesz and his Detective Story