Tuesday, 15 August 2017

City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya


City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya
First published in Russian in Russia in the 1860s. English language translation by Nora Seligman Favorov published today, the 15th August 2017, by Columbia University Press (5th September in the UK).

272 pages towards Olivia's fun August Reading Challenge to read an average of 50 pages each day throughout the month. Total = 1411 pages.

Where to buy this book:

Abebooks

Alibris

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kobo

Smashwords

Speedyhen

The Book Depository

Waterstones

Wordery


How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unsung gem of nineteenth-century Russian literature, City Folk and Country Folk is a seemingly gentle yet devastating satire of Russia's aristocratic and pseudo-intellectual elites in the 1860s. Translated into English for the first time, the novel weaves an engaging tale of manipulation, infatuation, and female assertiveness that takes place one year after the liberation of the empire's serfs.
Upending Russian literary cliches of female passivity and rural gentry benightedness, Sofia Khvoshchinskaya centers her story on a commonsense, hardworking noblewoman and her self-assured daughter living on their small rural estate. The antithesis of the thoughtful, intellectual, and self-denying young heroines created by Khvoshchinskaya's male peers, especially Ivan Turgenev, seventeen-year-old Olenka ultimately helps her mother overcome a sense of duty to her "betters" and leads the two to triumph over the urbanites' financial, amorous, and matrimonial machinations.
Sofia Khvoshchinskaya and her writer sisters closely mirror Britain's Brontes, yet Khvoshchinskaya's work contains more of Jane Austen's wit and social repartee, as well an intellectual engagement reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell's condition-of- England novels. Written by a woman under a male pseudonym, this brilliant and entertaining exploration of gender dynamics on a post-emancipation Russian estate offers a fresh and necessary point of comparison with the better-known classics of nineteenth-century world literature

A lovely comedy of class, manners and snobbery, I think City Folk And Country Folk should appeal to Jane Austen fans the world over. Khvoshchinskaya's writing, especially her dialogue, is wonderfully modern in style, sharp and vivacious, and her wickedly well observed characters are tremendous fun to spend time with. I liked that while the novel doesn't shy away from depicting social problems and the upheaval in Russia at the time, Khvoshchinskaya avoids getting bogged down in depressing detail. As Russian literature of the era goes, I think City Folk and Country Folk is refreshing breeze!

The characters particularly appealed to me because they are vivid and wonderfully alive, sometimes overstated but never grotesquely so, and women lead the narrative rather than simply being decorative adornments to men. The somewhat overwhelmed mother, Nastasya, and her irritatingly giggly but deceptively smart daughter, Olenka, stand up for themselves against repressive etiquette and a fabulously pompous reclusive aunt who frequently had me giggling almost as much as Olenka. The pair are precariously placed in the middle of several competing situations, each of which would see them at least lose face and I loved how Khvoshchinskaya had them navigate these tricky waters. Working-class serf peasants have just gained the right to land of their own which Nastasya must provide while at the same time an educated gentleman wishes to take up residence in her bath house and a neighbour wishes to marry Olenka off to her dolt of a protegee. The expectations of behaviour and mindless obedience based solely on perceived class and ancestry provide much of the humour, especially when these expectations are bluntly confounded.

I was surprised to discover that the new Columbia University Press edition of City Folk and Country Folk is its first publication in English. I am sure it should already have been a literary hit outside its native country! Strong heroines and the historical setting (albeit contemporary at its time of writing) are well suited to modern tastes and I believe Khvoshchinskaya's modern style should appeal to a wide readership.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya / Humorous fiction / Books from Russia

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