Running the gamut from sweet and reverent to twisted and uproarious, and with many of the stories appearing in English for the first time, this is a collection that will satisfy every reader. Dostoevsky brings stories of poverty and tragedy, Tolstoy inspires with his fable-like tales, Chekhov's unmatchable skills are on full display in a story about a female factory owner and the wretched workers, Klavdia Lukashevitch delights with a sweet and surprising tale of a childhood in White Russia, and Mikhail Zoshchenko recounts madcap anecdotes of Christmas trees and Christmas thieves. There is no shortage of vodka or wit in this volume that proves, with its wonderful variety and remarkable human touch, that Nobody Does Christmas Like the Russians.
My Last Christmas
On this festive day, because of somebody's sin, it is we who must sit here like the wretched of the earth . . ."
The passengers looked at the fussy figure of the little old man with displeasure and irritation.
"Yes," the old man continued, "because of somebody's sins . . . We are used to watching our little children jump in indescribable delight around the Christmas tree . . . Out of human weakness, dear Sirs and Madams, we enjoy gobbling up ham with green peas and sausages one after another, and a slice of goose, and a tipple tipple of the you know what . . ."
"Tfu!" said the fishmonger, looking at the wee old man with disgust.
The passengers slid forward on their chairs . . .
|Publisher:||New Vessel Press|
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About the Author
A Russian author of novels, short stories, plays, and philosophical essays, Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born into an aristocratic family and is best known for the epic books War and Peace and Anna Karenina, regarded as two of the greatest works of Russian literature. After serving in the Crimean War, Tolstoy retired to his estate and devoted himself to writing, farming, and raising his large family. His novels and outspoken social polemics brought him world-wide fame.
Date of Birth:September 9, 1828
Date of Death:November 20, 1910
Place of Birth:Tula Province, Russia
Place of Death:Astapovo, Russia
Education:Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47
Read an Excerpt
THE NEW YEAR'S TREE
(In the Soviet Union, it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas. In order to keep the much beloved custom of the Christmas Tree — and oneself — alive, the New Year's tree was born.)
This year I turned forty, friends. Turns out, I've seen forty New Year's trees. That's a lot!
I guess the first three years of life I didn't really know what a New Year's tree was. I guess Mama took me by the hand. And I guess, with my little black eyes I looked with disinterest at the decorated tree.
But, children, when the age of five struck, I could understood perfectly what a New Year's tree was. And I couldn't wait for this joyous holiday to come around.
My big sister was seven at the time. And she was an exceptionally bright little girl. She said to me one day, "Minka, Mama's in the kitchen. Let's go into the room where the tree is and take a look at what's going on there."
And so my sister, Lyolya, and I went into the room. And what did we see: a very beautiful New Year's tree. And underneath the tree were presents. And beads, bunting, lanterns, acorns, pastilles, and Crimean apples.
My sister, Lyolya, said, "We won't peek at the presents. Instead, better yet let's each eat one little pastille." And so she walked up to the tree and in an instant she gulped down a pastille that was hanging on a string.
I said, "Lyolya, if you ate a pastille, then I want to eat something." And I walked right up to the New Year's tree and took a nibble from an apple.
Lyolya said, "Minka, if you took a nibble from the apple, then I'm going to eat a second pastille and in addition, I'll take this piece of candy for myself."
Now, Lyolya was tall, a very long-limbed, gawky girl. And she could reach up high. She stood on her tippy toes and with her big mouth began to eat a second pastille. And I was surprisingly short. I could barely reach anything, except for the one apple which hung low.
"Lyolisha, if you ate a second pastille, then I'll take another bite from the apple." And I took the apple in my hands one more time and nibbled.
Lyolya said, "If you took another bite from the apple, then I won't stand on ceremony anymore and I'm going to eat a third pastille and in addition I'm going to take this bonbon cracker as a souvenir." I almost screamed. Because she could reach everything, and I couldn't.
I said to her, "Well, Lyolisha, I'll bring a chair up to the tree and I'll grab something for myself, something besides an apple."
And so with my skinny little arms I began to drag a chair over to the tree. But the chair fell on me. I wanted to pick it up. But it fell again. And right on the presents.
Lyolya said, "Minka, looks like you broke the puppet. That's right. You broke the porcelain arm off of the puppet."
Just then we heard Mama's footsteps and Lyolya and I ran into the other room.
Lyolya said, "Now, Minka, I can't guarantee that Mama won't wallop you."
I wanted to scream but at that moment guests arrived. A bunch of kids with their parents. Our mom lit all the candles on the tree, opened the door and said:
"Everybody come in."
And all the kids walked into the room where the New Year's tree was standing.
Our mama said, "And now let every child come to me, and I will give each one a toy and a treat."
And so the kids started going up to our mom. And she gave each one a toy. Then she took an apple, a pastille, and a candy from the tree and gave those to the children, too. And all the kids were very happy. Then Mama grabbed the apple I'd taken a bite out of and she said, "Lyolya and Minka, come here right now. Which one of you took a nibble from the apple?"
Lyolya said, "That's Minka's work."
I grabbed Lyolya by her little braid and said, "Lyolya showed me the ropes."
Mama said, "I'm putting Lyolya in the corner, nose first. As for you, however, I was going to give you a steamboat. But now I'm going to give the steamboat to that little boy I wanted to give the half-nibbled apple to."
And she took the steamboat and gave it to a four-year-old boy. And that boy began playing with it in an instant. And I got angry at the little boy and hit him in the arm with the toy. And he began to howl so awfully that his own mother took him by the hand and said, "From this day on I will not make another visit here with my boy."
And I said, "You can leave and I'll keep the steamboat."
And the other mother was surprised at my words and said: "Your son, no doubt, will be a brigand." And then my mother took me by the hand and said to that mother:
"Don't dare speak about my son that way. You better leave now with your golden boy and never, ever return to our home." And that other mother said:
"I'll do just that. Here, one arrives a guest and leaves distressed." And then another, a third mother, said:
"I'm going as well. My little girl doesn't deserve to be given a puppet with a chipped arm."
And my sister Lyolya shouted, "You can go too, with your golden girl! And I'll keep the puppet with the broken arm."
And then I, sitting on my mother's lap, shouted, "And anyway everybody can leave, and we'll keep all the toys." And all the guests began leaving. And our mother was surprised that we were left alone. But suddenly our papa came into the room.
He said, "Such an upbringing will ruin my children. I don't want them to fight, argue with, or kick out our guests. They'll have a difficult time in this world, and they'll die alone." And Papa walked up to the New Year's tree and snuffed out all the lights. And then he said:
"Get in bed this instant. Tomorrow I'll give the presents to the guests." And so, my friends, thirty-five years have gone by since then and I still remember that tree, even now. And for the past thirty-five years, children, I've never once eaten somebody else's apple and never hit somebody who was weaker than me. And the doctors tell me that's why I'm happy and good-hearted, relatively speaking.
"VOLODIA is here!" cried someone in the courtyard.
"Volodichka is here!" shrieked Natalia, rushing into the dining room.
The whole family ran to the window, for they had been expecting their Volodia for hours. At the front porch stood a wide posting sleigh with its troika of white horses wreathed in dense clouds of steam. The sleigh was empty because Volodia was already standing in the front entry untying his hood with red, frostbitten fingers. His schoolboy's uniform, his overcoat, his cap, his galoshes, and the hair on his temples were all silvery with frost, and from his head to his feet he exhaled such a wholesome atmosphere of cold that one shivered to be near him. His mother and aunt rushed to kiss and embrace him. Natalia fell down at his feet and began pulling off his galoshes. His sisters shrieked, doors creaked and banged on every side, and his father came running into the hall in his shirt-sleeves waving a pair of scissors and crying in alarm:
"Is anything the matter? We expected you yesterday. Did you have a good journey? For heaven's sake, give him a chance to kiss his own father!"
"Bow, wow, wow!" barked the great black dog, Milord, in a deep voice, banging the walls and furniture with his tail.
All these noises went to make up one great, joyous clamor that lasted several minutes. When the first burst of joy had subsided the family noticed that, beside Volodia, there was still another small person in the hall. He was wrapped in scarfs and shawls and hoods and was standing motionless in the shadow cast by a huge fox-skin coat.
"Volodia, who is that?" whispered Volodia's mother.
"Good gracious!" Volodia exclaimed, recollecting himself. "Let me present my friend Chechevitsyn. I have brought him from school to stay with us."
"We are delighted to see you! Make yourself at home!" cried the father gaily. "Excuse my not having a coat on! Allow me! — Natalia, help Mr. Cherepitsyn to take off his things! For heaven's sake, take that dog away! This noise is too awful!"
A few minutes later Volodia and his friend were sitting in the dining room drinking tea, dazed by their noisy reception and still rosy with cold. The wintry rays of the sun, piercing the frost and snow on the windowpanes, trembled over the samovar and bathed themselves in the rinse basin. The room was warm, and the boys felt heat and cold jostling one another in their bodies, neither wanting to concede its place to the other.
"Well, Christmas will soon be here!" cried Volodia's father, rolling a cigarette. "Has it seemed long since your mother cried as she saw you off last summer? Time flies, my son! Old age comes before one has time to heave a sigh. Mr. Chibisoff, do help yourself! We don't stand on ceremony here!"
Volodia's three sisters, Katia, Sonia, and Masha, the oldest of whom was eleven, sat around the table with their eyes fixed on their new acquaintance. Chechevitsyn was the same age and size as Volodia, but he was neither plump nor fair like him. He was swarthy and thin and his face was covered with freckles. His hair was bristly, his eyes were small, and his lips were thick; in a word, he was very plain, and, had it not been for his schoolboy's uniform, he might have been taken for the son of a cook. He was taciturn and morose, and he never once smiled. The girls immediately decided that he must be a very clever and learned person. He seemed to be meditating something, and was so busy with his own thoughts that he started if he were asked a question, and asked to have it repeated.
The girls noticed that Volodia, who was generally so talkative and gay, seldom spoke now and never smiled and on the whole did not seem glad to be at home. He only addressed his sisters once during dinner and then his remark was strange. He pointed to the samovar and said:
"In California they drink gin instead of tea."
He, too, seemed to be busy with thoughts of his own, and, to judge from the glances that the two boys occasionally exchanged, their thoughts were identical.
After tea the whole family went into the nursery, and Papa and the girls sat down at the table and took up some work which they had been doing when they were interrupted by the boys' arrival. They were making decorations out of colored paper for the Christmas tree. It was a thrilling and noisy occupation. Each new flower was greeted by the girls with shrieks of ecstasy, of terror almost, as if it had dropped from the sky. Papa, too, was in raptures, but every now and then he would throw down the scissors, exclaiming angrily that they were blunt. Mama came running into the nursery with an anxious face and asked:
"Who has taken my scissors? Have you taken my scissors again, Ivan?"
"Good heavens, won't she even let me have a pair of scissors?" answered Papa in a tearful voice, throwing himself back in his chair with the air of a much- abused man. But the next moment he was in raptures again.
On former holidays Volodia had always helped with the preparations for the Christmas tree, and had run out into the yard to watch the coachman and the shepherd heaping up a mound of snow, but this time neither he nor Chechevitsyn took any notice of the colored paper, nor did they once visit the stables. They sat by a window whispering together, and then opened an atlas and fell to studying it.
"First, we must go to Perm," whispered Chechevitsyn. "Then to Tyumen, then to Tomsk, and then — then to Kamchatka. From there the Eskimos will take us across the Behring Strait in their canoes, and then — we shall be in America! There are a great many wild animals there."
"Where is California?" asked Volodia.
"California is farther down. If we can get to America, California will be around the corner. We can make our living by hunting and highway robbery."
All day Chechevitsyn avoided the girls and, if he met them, looked at them askance. After tea in the evening he was left alone with them for five minutes. To remain silent would have been awkward, so he coughed sternly, rubbed the back of his right hand with the palm of his left, looked severely at Katia, and asked:
"Have you read Mayne Reid?"
"No, I haven't ... but tell me, can you skate?"
Chechevitsyn became lost in thought once more and did not answer her question. He only blew out his cheeks and heaved a sigh as if he were very hot. Once more he raised his eyes to Katia's face and said:
"When a herd of buffalo gallop across the pampas the whole earth trembles and the frightened mustangs kick and neigh."
Chechevitsyn smiled wistfully and added:
"And Indians attack trains, too. But worst of all are the mosquitoes and the termites."
"What are those?"
"Termites look something like ants, only they have wings. They bite dreadfully. Do you know who I am?"
"You are Mr. Chechevitsyn!"
"No, I am Montehomo, the Hawk's Claw, Chief of the Ever Victorious Hawkeye."
Masha, the youngest of the girls, looked first at him and then out of the window into the garden, where night was already falling, and said doubtfully:
"We had something called chechevitsa for supper last night." The absolutely unintelligible sayings of Chechevitsin, his continual whispered conversations with Volodia, and the fact that Volodia never played now and was always absorbed in thought — all this seemed to the girls to be both mysterious and strange. Katia and Sonia, the two oldest ones, began to spy on the boys, and when Volodia and his friend went to bed that evening, they crept to the door of their room and listened to the conversation inside. Oh! What did they hear? The boys were planning to run away to America in search of gold! They were all prepared for the journey and had a pistol ready, two knives, some bread crusts, a magnifying glass for lighting fires, a compass, and four rubles. The girls discovered that the boys would have to walk several thousand miles, fighting on the way with savages and tigers, and that they would then find gold and ivory, and slay their enemies. Next, they would turn pirates, drink gin, and at last marry beautiful wives and settle down to cultivate a plantation. Volodia and Chechevitsyn both talked at once and kept interrupting one another from excitement. Chechevitsyn named himself "Montehomo, the Hawk's Claw," and he called Volodia "my Paleface Brother."
"Be sure you don't tell Mama!" said Katia to Sonia as they went back to bed. "Volodia will bring us gold and ivory from America, but if you tell Mama she won't let him go!"
Chechevitsyn spent the day before Christmas Eve studying a map of Asia and taking notes, while Volodia roamed about the house refusing all food, his face looking tired and puffy as if it had been stung by a bee. He stopped more than once in front of the icon in the nursery and crossed himself saying:
"O Lord, forgive me, miserable sinner! O Lord, help my poor, unfortunate mother!"
Toward evening he burst into tears. When he said good night he kissed his father and mother and sisters over and over again. Katia and Sonia realized the significance of his actions, but Masha, the youngest, understood nothing at all. Only when her eye fell upon Chechevitsyn did she grow pensive and say with a sigh:
"Nurse says that when Lent comes we must eat peas and chechevitsa."
Early on Christmas Eve Katia and Sonia slipped quietly out of bed and went to the boys' room to see them run away to America. They crept up to their door.
"So you won't go?" asked Chechevitsyn angrily. "Tell me, you won't go?"
"Oh, dear!" wailed Volodia, weeping softly. "How can I go? I'm so sorry for Mama!"
"Paleface Brother, I beg you to go! You promised me yourself that you would. You told me yourself how nice it would be. Now, when everything is ready, you are afraid!"
"I ... I'm not afraid. I ... I'm sorry for Mama."
"Tell me, are you going or not?"
"I'm going, only ... only wait a bit, I want to stay at home a little while longer!"
"If that's the case, I'll go alone!" Chechevitsyn said with decision. "I can get along perfectly well without you. I want to hunt and fight tigers! If you won't go, give me my pistol!"
Volodia began to cry so bitterly that his sisters could not endure the sound and began weeping softly themselves. Silence fell.
"Then you won't go?" demanded Chechevitsyn again.
"I ... I'll go."
"Then get dressed!"
And to keep up Volodia's courage, Chechevitsyn began singing the praises of America. He roared like a tiger, he whistled like a steamboat, he scolded, and promised to give Volodia all the ivory and gold they might find.
The thin, dark boy with his bristling hair and his freckles seemed to the girls to be a strange and wonderful person. He was a hero to them, a man without fear, who could roar so well that, through the closed door, one might really mistake him for a tiger or a lion.
When the girls were dressing in their own room, Katia exclaimed with tears in her eyes:
"Oh, I'm so frightened!"
All was quiet until the family sat down to dinner at two o'clock, and then it suddenly appeared that the boys were not in the house. Inquiries were made in the servants' quarters and at the stables, but they were not there. A search was made in the village, but they could not be found. At teatime they were still missing, and when the family had to sit down to supper without them, Mama was terribly anxious and was even crying. That night another search was made in the village and men were sent down to the river with lanterns. Heavens, what an uproar arose!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Very Russian Christmas"
Copyright © 2016 Victoria Zinde Walsh.
Excerpted by permission of New Vessel Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Incomplete Table of Contents:
Lev Tolstoy: Dream of the Young Tsar
Lev Tolstoy: Where There is Love, There is God Too
Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Christmas Tree and a Wedding
Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Beggar Boy at Christ's Christmas Tree
Anton Chekhov: A Woman's Kingdom
Anton Chekhov:: The Boys
Anton Chekhov: At Christmastime
Klavdia Lukashevich: A Distant Christmas Eve
Mikhail Zoshchenko: The Tree
Mikhail Zoshchenko: My Last Christmas
Vladimir Korolenko: Makar's Dream
Nikolai Leskov: Offended Before Christmas
Daniil Kharms: Volodya at the Tree
Mikhail Saltykov Shchedrin: A Christmas Story