Reading by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

Reading means a lot! A whole lot! Read, and you’ll see at once how sharply your horizons change. And you can get hold of books anywhere.

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story Reading is a hilarious take on reading and people’s perception about this habit. The story is one of his earlier works, published in 1884. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Reading: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in a government office where Impresario Galamidov and bureau chief Semipalatov are discussing the art and beauty of Russian actresses. 

Semipalatov seems to be smitten by one particular young actress and is virtually speechless when he is interrupted by the office clerk, Merdyaev, to sign some official documents. Put off by the sudden interruption, he instead starts ridiculing the ignorance of this man.

You said we no longer have any Gogolian types… But here you see! Isn’t he one? Scruffy, out at the elbows, and look how he writes! Illiterate, like a cobbler! Just look!

Galamidov, taking a quick look at those papers, concludes that Merdyaev does not read much and suggests he picks up the habit to do so. After all, books are easy to get and open horizons. 

He even offered to bring some to the office, which he did the next day. Merdyaev was handed a book to read; he was anxious from the very beginning.

His crossed eyes shifted anxiously and seemed to be looking for help from the objects around him.

The old office accountant Budylda tried to console him and offered some friendly advice regarding this Semipalatov mandated reading business. He advised that the clerk read just about enough to keep the chief off his back but warned against the repercussions of much involvement in the clever stuff.

Read a little, and then, God grant, he will forget, and you can drop it. Don’t be afraid. And above all, Don’t get involved in it… Read but don’t get involved in this clever stuff.

Merdyavev tried and tried but couldn’t make anything of it. On an encounter with the chief one day, he froze upon being asked to give a synopsis of what he had read. 

The chief was not impressed and implored him to re-read other office folks to pick up books and begin reading. Almost everyone went along with the request except for the accountant, Buldylda. He was having none of it.

No, excuse me, Your Excellency, I’d sooner take my retirement. I know what comes of some of these critiques and writings. On account of them, my older grandson calls his own mother a fool right to her face and gulps milk all through Lent. Excuse me sir!

After repeated tries of making sense of the book given to Merdyaev, feeling helpless, the accountant asked to put in a request to the chief on his behalf to excuse him from reading.

I’ll pray to God eternally for you! Ask his excellency to excuse me… I can’t read. I read day and night, don’t sleep, don’t eat… My wife’s worn out from reading aloud to me, but , God, strike me dead, I understand nothing! Do me this great service!

Budylda tried doing that multiple times, but it just didn’t work. Semipalatov continued reproaching the staff for their ignorance until one fine day, Merdyaev showed up in the office, completely distraught, sobbing and asking for an apology for making counterfeit money and throwing a baby down a well.

Semipalatov, confused, asked Budylda about such behavior and was told that the reading drove him insane.

Merdyaev recovered but not completely. And to this day, he trembles and turns away from the sight of books.

Reading: Review and My Thoughts

The story is an absolute delight. A story on reading itself, how fascinating!

I loved every character in the story, Semipalatov for his relentless pursuit of making his staff more art-friendly, and Budylda for his wisdom in doing and advising others to do just the opposite of that. 

Merdyaev, for being the scared rabbit who went through hell and high water to avoid reading and finally freeing the whole office of the curse of reading. If not for him, their office would still be eventful. It would still have life.

If I were to pick up my favorite quote from the story, it would have to be Galamidov saying:

Reading means a lot! A whole lot! Read, and you’ll see at once how sharply your horizons change. And you can get hold of books anywhere.

I am sure you have read this or heard this in some form or the other from someone in your life. Books are a whole new world and a perfect fit for a creature you seldom see at parties. When you do, in a corner glued to the only person they know from the lot or their cellphones, pretending to monitor social media feeds while actually scrolling through stories. 

More often than not, this creature, when awake, is found cuddling books when not reading them.

You might be that creature, and his story seems to be dedicated to you.

To me, it felt like Chekhov speaking to his readers, donning Galamidov’s form in the story. Still, unlike Semapalatov’s staff, we are not complaining. 

Spring by Anton Chekhov: Review and Analysis

Gustav Mahler, the famous Austro-Bohemian romantic composer, once said:

“Spring won’t let me stay in the house any longer. I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.”

I see myself nodding at this; I bet you do, too, in all likelihood.

But not Chekhov’s protagonist from his short story called the Spring.

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story Spring explores the world of a writer, tormented by his demons and his struggles in carrying on with his ‘mediocre life.’ The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1886. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Spring: Summary, Plot Analysis and Review 

The story captures the portrayal of spring in terms of its impact on writers vis-a-vis ordinary folk. Every ordinary person is happy – the gardener Pantelei Petrovich, the huntsman Ivan Zakharov, even the random lady sitting at the greenhouse. But not Makar Denisych. 

It is not that poverty is the reason. In fact, Makar, who happens to be a writer and a poet, is tormented by the season. He is pretty well off.

His salary is twice that of the gardener; he wears a white shirt, smokes expensive tobacco, is always well fed and well dressed.

To Makar, the world is gloomy as much as it can get and springs even more so. Everyone he meets, everything he sees, reminds him of his ‘mediocrity’. He envies the gardener, the huntsman, and literally everyone because of how at peace he thinks they are.

Sitting in his greenhouse or pottering in his garden, he has learned about the vegetable kingdom, something that no one else knows.

His soul is filled with timidity. Instead of ecstasy, joy, and hopes, spring evokes in him only some sort of vague desires, which trouble him. So he walks along, unable to figure out what he needs. In fact, what does he need?

A casual encounter with almost anyone brings him pain, of one sort or the other. No matter who he has it with, every conversation is a constant reminder of what he considers his giftlessness. 

People, knowing that the writer he is, inadvertently assume that he is looking for inspiration and are eager to supply him with anecdotes he would find interesting to write on.

What a pity you weren’t at the marketplace today! If you’d seen how comically those two peasants fought, you’d certainly have written about it!

Splendid weather! Spring is here! Going for a stroll, getting inspired?

But in his eyes is written: “Giftlessness! Mediocrity!”

When the general he meets on a random stroll recounts a story written by a Frenchman that he had read earlier that day, he is quick to compare the quality of content to that of his own.

I don’t know what he found good in it. The content is banal, hackneyed… My stories are much more substantial.

He feels the world is out to get him, looking for every opportunity to insult him for being a mediocre writer. He feels offended by the slightest of comments and sometimes even references. 

When people call him Mister Writer, he feels offended. He feels like everyone around is making special efforts not to ignore him, and that’s a sign of insult.

But not to notice giftless Makar, who writes mediocre poetry and stories, to pass him over in silence without saying something offensive – is impossible.

Every rejection he receives from the publishers to him is a mark of mediocrity. All the manuscripts lying in his trunk are constant reminders of lack of talent. He also feels that every single rejection he receives is the talk of the town.

If there is something wrong with his writing, they don’t try to explain why it is wrong; they simply say, “Again, that son of a bitch wrote something rubbish!“

He does seem to get a respite from the torment, maybe once every few years, coming across another misfit like himself, sharing a few laughs, and feeling light-hearted, but that doesn’t last long either. They, writers as they are, soon deny each other’s talents, do not accept each other, envy, hate, become vexed, and part as enemies. 

The story is beautifully written, including portrayals of spring and emotions that go with it.

If you have ever convalesced from a grave illness, you know the blissful state when you swoon from vague presentiments and smile without any reason. Evidently, that is the state nature is experiencing now.

In that season, it feels good to drive dirty water along the gutters with a broom or a shovel, to send toy boats down the streams, or crack stubborn ice with your heels. It also feels good to drive pigeons high up into the heavens, or to climb trees and tie birdhouses in them. Everything feels good in that happy time of the year.

Description of the writer, the characteristic misfit, is so on-point. Could anyone have done more justice?

The whole district considers him a writer,a poet ; they all see something peculiar in him, say he talks differently, he walks differently, smokes differently, and once, at a general court session to which he had been summoned as a witness, he let slip inappropriately that he was occupied with literature, and blushed as deeply as if he had stolen a chicken.

This one hit hard. Makar’s internal world of torment was too real. It must be a nightmare being him. I couldn’t help but think if Chekhov ever had those emotions being the writer he was. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, being the extraordinary talent he was. 

I have been told that more talented writers hold themselves to the highest standards, constantly indulging in self-ridicule when they don’t meet them. In contrast, the not-so-good ones are usually much happier. Attribute this to the Dunning Kruger effect if you want. 

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life”

I bet Makar agrees.

Anguish by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

My son’s dead, but I’m alive…It’s a wonder, death mixed up the doors, instead of coming to me, she went to my son…

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story Anguish explores the themes of grief, loneliness, and poverty in an indifferent society. The story is one of his earlier works published in 1886. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Anguish: Plot Summary and Analysis

The story revolves around a poor cabby named Iona Potapov, who has just lost his young son. It opens with Iona and his horse waiting for passengers. Since they have set out that afternoon, they haven’t even had any passengers. Both seem to be deep in thought when they hear someone call for a cabby. 

Iona takes the passenger on and seems to be wanting to speak with him; nothing comes out except for a wheeze. He tries again and tells the passenger that his son recently died. 

The conversation soon dies, as the officer is more interested in getting to his destination than speaking to the cabby.

He drops the passenger at the destination and resumes the same morose posture as before, sunk deep in thought. This time, he receives three passengers who haggle over the fare, but Iona doesn’t care for the money. All he cares about right now is to share the grief and talk to someone about what he was going through. 

Seeing that the men this time are more vocal – even the insults that they hurl at him for being so slow – don’t dampen his spirits much. 

Pah, devil take you! Will you get moving or not, you old Cholera? Is this any way to drive? Beat her with the whip!

He hears the abuse aimed at him, sees people, and the feeling of solitude slowly begins to lift from his chest. The hunchback keeps pouring out abuse until he chokes on a whimsical six-story curse.

Sweet relief, he has a glimmer of hope now that he will be listened to. He launches the same conversation about his son’s recent death with the passengers.

My son’s dead, but I’m alive…It’s a wonder; death mixed up the doors, instead of coming to me, she went to my son…

Although the passengers are a bit more responsive this time than the last one, the journey ends soon enough, and Iona doesn’t get a chance to continue the conversation. 

He is left alone again with the horse. From the sea of people around, he doesn’t have anyone to share his grief with. He feels utterly alone.

Iona’s martyred eyes roam anxiously over the crowds flitting by on both sides of the street: Might he find amongst these thousands of people just one who would hear him out?

He is back at the boarding house, and the fellow mates there are all asleep; there is no one to share the news with. He craves company. 

At this point, he would love a female company, someone he can share with and get a reaction from. He hasn’t had success doing so thus far.

The listener should gasp, sigh, murmur something.. It is still better to talk with women. They may be fools, but they howl after a couple of words.

In the absence of human company to share the grief with, he opens up in front of the only living creature’s company he has—his horse.

So it is , my little mare.. Kuzma Ionych is no more.. Gave up the ghost.. Just died for nothing…. It is sad isn’t it?

The nag chews, listens and breathes on her master’s hands.

Iona gets carried away and tells her everything.

Anguish: Review and My Thoughts

The story was heartbreaking to say the least. The guy has just lost his son, hasn’t been able to process his grief yet, can’t make ends meet being a cabby, and can’t properly feed the only living creature that is his livelihood and his company. 

There is almost nothing going right in this guy’s life. All he needs is someone to talk to. I just couldn’t help but remember this line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Water, water everywhere, not any drop to drink.

Every opportunity that he gets for human company lifts his spirits in the hope that he might be able to unburden himself of the grief. 

The man finds comfort in any human conversation, even when the passengers are hurling insults at him – just because he doesn’t feel alone anymore in that duration. 

But with every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. His mind is still with him. His disposition is still somewhat sunny. He still likes to be in the company of people, years of solitude, and this sudden unfortunate event hasn’t taken humanity away from him. 

Coping with grief is difficult even in the presence of loved ones; without it is virtually impossible. 

John Donne wasn’t wrong when he said ‘No man is an island’. 

Iona was able to find a solution to his problem when there was none to be found. Humanity can too.

“And How Do You Make That?”

Do you happen to have a friend that defies all logic, all natural laws of human sustenance, and dare I add, all sanity? The bond between their couches (or beds) and their bodies are so strong that nothing other than an immediate threat to their life will cause them to break it. 

Unless you are an ultra fitness nut (think Parks & Rec’s Chris Traeger), chances are you have at least one of those.

I am almost that kind of person myself if my friends are to be believed. My spare time is always a clash of titans – my sleep and my hunger. 

So naturally, the occasion when I choose to break the holy bond between my bed and me is either when my stomach grumbles are deafening, or I think I am experiencing HACE*. Please don’t believe it when they tell you that High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is something only mountaineers experience. A lazy person can create very realistic and comparable laboratory results within the comfort of their bed (or couch). Ask your friend.

Please don’t take that to believe that I am an animal. I am not. I do step out from time to time. So one of those days, ashamed of having wasted almost an entire weekend doing nothing but this, I decided to find courage and step out in the sub-zero zone to grab a bite to eat armed with a new book and bottled water in my jute tote bag. 

As soon as I step out, regret takes over – why don’t I do this more often? Isn’t this just splendid, fresh air, clear blue skies

But before I can go down to Shameville again, I am distracted by thoughts of all I could eat at the food street. After a torturous yet titillating ten minutes of deep thought, I decide on Mexican. There is a cute little joint that I have been to many times before – that’s the one I choose.

There is a spring in my steps and a frenzy in my salivary glands. I have decided what I will eat – Veg and Cheese Quesadillas with a side of garlic cheese bread. 

I don’t have to read the menu; I head right to the counter and blurt my order instantaneously (14 hours of nothing but water can do that to you, trust me). The guy looks confused. I repeat my order, realizing he didn’t quite get my speech. Things look slightly better than before, but not much.

He now grabs one of the paper menus and asks me to point to the item I ask for. I do that with excitement and trepidation. His expression changes yet again. He itches the back of his head a little bit, twirls his hair, goes back to the front page of the menu and then again to my order, looks at the ground, looks back at me, and goes, ‘How do you make that?’

The man asked me – the customer – how to prepare an item displayed on their menu.

True story, ladies and gentlemen!

A Slip-Up by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

Be happy, my dears! Oh! You are taking from me my only treasure! Love my daughter, be good to her!

Something you would expect to be said in a marriage ceremony. And it almost was. Welcome to another Chekhov short story with a twist.

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story A Slip Up is a hilarious take on a young man’s lack of commitment to the wedding and the parents who are ready to bless the union before it even shows signs of qualifying.

The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1886. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

A Slip Up: Summary and Plot Analysis

Ilya Peplov and Kleopatra Petrovna are parents to a young woman Natashenka, who is being ‘courted’ by a local school teacher Gropekin. The parents seem to be eavesdropping on what they feel is a confession of love to each other. 

They plan to seal the deal by blessing them with an icon at the very opportune moment to make the union binding for both.

Unaware of any such plans, the young couple seems to be having a leisurely conversation.

You teach penmanship and your handwriting is like chicken scratches!

In penmanship the main thing isn’t handwriting, the main thing is that the pupils shouldn’t doze off. One gets it on the head with a ruler, another’s made to stand in a corner.. What’s handwriting! A waste of time!

Things start to get a bit emotional for Natashenka, and she offers that he kiss her little hand in confession of his love to her. Gropekin, of course, is onboard with that. 

Hearing this part of the conversation, the parents feel that time has finally come. Peplov asks Kleopatra to fetch the icon so they can go ahead, bless the union and seal the deal. Cleopatra grabs an icon and they barge in.

The Lord will bless you, my children. Live, be fruitful, multiply.

Be happy, my dears! Oh! You are taking from me my only treasure! Love my daughter, be good to her!

Gropekin completely froze at the scene – the assault was so sudden. He had been caught, after all, there was no way he was going to be able to get out of it. He was almost on the verge of giving up when he realized that what was supposed to be an icon to bless was actually a writer’s portrait. 

The mother, in her excitement and rush, picked up the wrong icon by mistake. He was saved. 

In the ensuing confusion and embarrassment, Gropekin found the perfect opportunity to escape this time for good.

The teacher of penmanship took advantage of the situation and fled.

A Slip Up: Review and My Thoughts

Minus the icon thing, this situation is all too familiar—the young couple as well as the parents.

Natashenka seems to be in love, while Gropekin appears to be looking for a quick win. 

Natashenka’s parents are eager to have the union formalized. Surprise, surprise! So much so that they are willing to lay down a trap the guy can’t escape out of.

As for Gropekin, Wedding doesn’t seem like the price he is willing to pay, at least not now. As the parents stand in confusion and embarrassment about picking up the wrong icon, Gropekin doesn’t lose a minute before escaping. 

Gropekin reminded me just a little bit of Chekhov. Chekhov is known to have had a fair share of affairs, and his lack of commitment was never a secret. 

On the topic of marriage, He is known to have said: 

A man and a woman marry because both of them do not know what to do with themselves.

I don’t know if I can commit to an agreement or a disagreement with it.

An Educated Blockhead by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

I don’t know about you, but I have had the privilege of seeing many of these creatures over the years—more than I would like. 

Having said that, I think I have the full potential to be one, too; I have proven to myself on occasions that I might be worthy of the crown. Hopefully, that is something that never happens to me. 

But even if it does, I am happy that Slopsov from Anton Chekhov’s short story ‘An Educated Blockhead’ would be there to cushion my fall.

This excerpt is from Chekhov’s short story ‘An Educated Blockhead’ and is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1885. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

An Educated Blockhead: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with Arkhip Slopsov, a retired second Lieutenant, trying to read what seems like a court summons signed by a judge, Pyotr Sixwingsky. 

As soon as he sees the judge’s name, who happens to be a friend, Slopsov discounts what he is reading, assumes that he is being invited, and continues to believe so even after his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Nitkin explains that it is actually a court order and not an invitation. After all, Sixwingsky is a friend; how could he ever qualify to judge him?

He’s summoning you to court as the accused… He’s putting you on trial

Me, is it? Pss.. the milk hasn’t dried on his lips yet; who’s he to put me on trial… Small fry… He’s just doing that as a joke.

How can he judge me if we’ve played cards and drunk and done devil knows what else together? What kind of a judge is he anyway? Ha-ha! Petka- a judge- Haha!

Nitkin tries to explain the gravity of the situation to Slopsov, that he might be incriminated and punished, but Slopsov doesn’t understand. He advises Slopsov not to go to the hearing so, he and his judge friend both are saved from the embarrassment, but Slopsov is hearing none of it. 

Sixwingsky is a friend, after all, a godfather to his son. The hearing is nothing but a farce in his mind.

No, why in absentia? I’ll go and see how he is going to judge it. I’m curious to see what kind of judge he’s become – Incidentally, I haven’t visited him for a long time.

On the day of the hearing, Slopsov presents himself. Sixwingsky is visibly embarrassed but continues with the proceedings. The victim Grigory Vlasow is asked to provide an account of the event, and it looks very much like Slopsov actually did commit the offence. 

Slopsov, however, when asked if he was guilty, still takes it as a joke. Frustrated, the judge calls for a quick recess and convinces Slopsov to stay back and let him pronounce his judgement in absentia. 

Slopsov reluctantly agrees. The judge comes back happy about having avoided a scandal and a fair sentence – one that required Slopsov to pay a fine to the victim. Slopsov is flabbergasted. The least he was expecting was for the victim to be locked up.

Me.. Pay Grishka.. Ten roubles?! Are you crazy?

You fined me ten roubles, but for how many days are you going to keep Grishka in lockup?

So, it’s still the good old days, is that it? You beat Grishka, and Grishka should be arrested! Amazing logic! Do you have any notion of today’s legal procedures?

The judge ended up paying the victim on Slopsov’s denial, and they went for lunch together at his house. The topic comes up again, and Slopsov, drunk this time, asks again if Vlasov would be locked to avoid lodging any further complaints against Slopsov.

The judge and Nitkin attempt explaining again, but to no avail.

Slopsov’s opinion of Sixwingsky is set.

He is a good man, educated, ever so obliging, but.. Unfit! He doesn’t really know about judging… It’s a pity, but we’ll have to unselect him for the next three-year term.

Here, you need a man of rank and substance.. So that you know, he instills fear, but they just perched some Nobody up there – go on Judge!

An Educated Blockhead: Review and My Thoughts

Slopsov shone as a complete moron in the story. Foolhardy, entitled, freeloading, judgemental brat! I began to think how a person like Sixwingsky (references to Seraphim, the angel of the highest rank) would ever come to be friends with a person like Slopsov. 

They are polar opposites. He doesn’t listen to reason. At all. From anyone. He can punish anyone he likes, whichever way he likes, for no reason whatsoever, without any regard to repercussions. 

To him, the entire justice system is a joke. And not just that, his friend, the judge too. He is quick to forget the judge’s help but not so agile when it actually comes to understanding why he did what he did. In his mind, however fair, qualified, well-meaning a judge is, he is useless if he doesn’t instill fear. Fear equates to the proper judgement.

Slopsov, true to your name, you are a Certified Blockhead.

The Exclamation Mark by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

In the closed eyes of a dozing Perekladin, a fiery comma flew like a meteor. The golden commas spun around and raced off to one side. They were replaced by fiery periods.

This excerpt is from Chekhov’s short story Exclamation Point and is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1885. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Punctuation marks were my regular tormentors for a good two months of my primary school student life. This was a painful reminder of those times of my life. 

Oh, those commas, colons, and semicolons. In that, my torments were quite similar to the ones of Perekladin, but that’s where the similarities end. His story is way more fun than mine. Let’s get on with it.

The Exclamation Mark: Summary and Plot Analysis

Efim Fomich Perekladin is a collegiate secretary who is extremely pissed at the treatment meted out to him earlier that day at a party. A conversation on the importance of education pops at the party, and he ends up being a subject of conversation. 

Efim, having a good post in government, is asked about the kind of education that he received.

For us, No education is needed

And where did you learn to write correctly?

Habit, sir… After forty years of service, you get a knack of it.

Embarrassed by Grisha’s response, the young man underlines the importance of a conscious understanding of language and discounts his understanding of education. 

This unconscious reflex orthography of yours isn’t worth a kopeck. It’s mechanical production and nothing more.

Being the highly-placed government official that the young man was, Grisha chose to smile and stay silent. He was seething with anger inside. 

Later that evening, when he gets home looking disturbed, he explodes on his wife when she asks him about the reason he looked gloomy.

Stop bothering me, you she-devil!

He replays the conversation in his head and feels angrier. After all, who was the young man to think that Efim’s education was mechanical and nothing more?

Unconscious Mechanical Production! Ah, you, devil take you! Anyhow, maybe I understand more than you do, even if I didn’t study in your universities.

He marinates himself in that line of thoughts so much that he starts dreaming of punctuation marks. He was desperate to prove that he knew where each of them applied.

They (question marks) are always used when there’s a request to be made or let’s say documents are being examined. 

First the commas, then the periods, semi-colons, colons, he vividly imagined them all and felt triumphant placing them all correctly till he hit a snag with an Exclamation point. He had no clue where to use it, having never used it once, in 40 years of public service. 

Devil take them.. When should they be used? Is it possible that I have forgotten or have I simply never used them? When does the long devil get used?

Completely clueless, he reaches out to his wife for help. After all, she boasted about completing boarding school. She would know!

Do you know , sweetheart, when to use exclamation points in documents?

The answer from his wife surprises him. The exclamation point is a punctuation mark to use when expressing happiness, indignation, joy, anger etc. What use was such a thing! Why would a government official feel the need to use it? When would it ever be warranted?

For forty years, he had been writing documents, he had written out thousands but didn’t remember a single line that expressed delight of any sort. But is there a need for feelings in documents? Even a man with no feelings can write them out.

Exclamation points still completely crowd Efim’s imagination; he sees them everywhere. Since he hasn’t used them yet, they will just not leave him. 

Overcome with the impulse to use the punctuation mark, he settles down at his desk and writes his name followed by an exclamation point, feeling jubilant at finally making the exclamation points vanish.

Collegiate secretary Efim Perekladin!!! “There, take that! Take that!”

The Exclamation Point: Review and My Thoughts

The story was hilarious, I loved it immensely, but I have to admit, I did feel a little bit of regret for not having come across this before. It’s loaded with content that would have benefited me greatly. Oh! What would I have not given to understand the punctuation sooner (barring the peanut butter jelly sandwich lunch of course!). 

I loved the story for many reasons – the childish fixation of an old man, the vivid imagery of the same old man, and his latent OCD, of course! 

He was even treating the punctuation marks as people or ghosts in his imagination, to the extent of having conversations with them! 

For him, somehow, the idea of education was totally reduced only to writing and then just the punctuation marks. I found it cute that instead of just hurling insults at the young man, in absentia, he was trying to prove to himself that he knew. 

Efim Perekladin taught me many things – the most important of them being:

Don’t shy away from using emotions that warrant exclamation points!

In a Foreign Land By Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

You are talking to a friend from a different country. And suddenly, he mentions something about your country that makes your jaw drop. 

Your friend seems sensible enough in all other areas of his life. You wonder to yourself: maybe just this one time, I would let it slip. 

Some days pass, you meet again, and he does that again. You get curious but still not mad enough to confront him yet. You let it pass. Well, surprise, surprise! He does it again! What would you do?

Say, they do this not every few weeks, but with every conversation they have with you. What would you do then? 

Let’s add another little twist. Your friend pays you so he can insult you and your country. How far would you let him go without flinching (assuming that you still mean to be friends)?

Just take this scenario and marinate it in a little Chekhov humor, Voila!In a Foreign Land

Nobody likes French mustard, except maybe the French.

This excerpt is from Chekhov’s short story In a Foreign Land. The story is a hilarious take on cultural differences in Russia and France, captured through the means of a dialogue, bordering on a monologue, between a Russian landowner and his French employee/tutor. 

The story is one of his earlier works and was published way back in 1885. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two Stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

In a Foreign Land: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in a dining room at lunch with what seems like a monologue between a landowner called Kamyshev and a French tutor in his employ, Shampooing. 

The duties of a former tutor are not complicated. He has to dress decently, the smell of perfume, listen to Kamyshev’s idle talk, eat, drink, sleep – and that it seems, is all. In return, he receives room, board, and an unspecified salary.

What seemingly begins as a generic conversation between two adults from a different cultural setting, seems to convert into a ruthless racial slurring episode quickly. 

Kamyshev goes on to insult everything French – their food, their land, their bookish intelligence, their morality, their family values, everything! The guy leaves nothing on the table. Nothing!

Nobody likes French mustard, except maybe the French. But a Frenchman will eat anything you give him: frogs, rats,cockroaches-brr!

Well, what is France, honestly speaking? A little scrap of land! Send our policemen there, and a month later, he will ask to be transferred: there’s no room to turn around.

I remember reading somewhere that you all have an intelligence acquired from books, while ours is inborn.

With us, whoever marries, cleaves to his wife and there’s no more talking, but with you devil knows what goes on. The husband sits in a cafe all day, and his wife infests his house with Frenchmen and cancans away with them.

One must be impartial. Pigs are pigs.

Shampooing takes offense, and understandably so. He asks Kamyshev to relieve him of his duties and let him leave Russia to go to France. He goes and packs up his belongings.

Even an enemy couldn’t have come up with a worse insult to my feelings than you have just done! All is finished!

At this time, dinner is served, Kamyshev is eating alone and is overcome with a thirst for idle talk. He doesn’t have Shampooing to have a conversation with. He enquires the servant of his whereabouts and being told that he is all set to leave, goes to pay Shampooing a visit. 

Kamyshev jokes about having lost Shampooing’s passport. Shampooing expresses his pain at France being insulted that way but admits to being attached to their family and Russia. 

Kamyshev, hooking on to that bait, succeeds in making up with him.

Why on earth should you be offended if I denounce the French? We denounce all sorts of people – should they all be offended? Take my other tenant. I call him this and that, Yid and Kike, pull him by the whiskers.. He doesn’t get offended. (Philosophical fallacy)

It doesn’t even take a meal before Kamyshev repeats the same behavior he apologized for.

The first course is eaten in silence. After the second, the same story begins, and so Shampooing’s sufferings never end.

In a Foreign Land: Review and My Thoughts

Now, what begins as a seemingly harmless and playful conversation doesn’t take long before taking a turn for the worse. Kamyshev is obviously aware that his behavior hurts the Frenchman, but doesn’t do anything to address his discomfort. If anything, he adds on more. 

He obviously cares enough not to let him go and risk losing his only listener. Maybe making fun of other people doesn’t satisfy the quota of sadistic pleasure he derives from torturing people less well off than him.

Poor Shampooing (I wonder if the naming was deliberate here!) seems like a prisoner of his circumstances. He makes a pretty decent living doing nothing but accompanying Kamyshev on his meals and listening to his idle banter or his insults. Is money fair compensation for the constant insults thrown his way? Does comfort mean more to him than his ego? Or is he really attached to his captor?

I don’t know; I wasn’t able to decide. 

What I do know is that, unfortunately, this was not just an 1885 problem when the story was written. It’s a much bigger problem now. 

With more and more immigrants calling a new country their home with every passing year, the problem is exponentially magnified. And Kamyshev has taken many forms – the governments, the employers, the citizens.

Hidden in this fantastic story is a great lesson:

Don’t be a Kamyshev because in this day and era of frequent international turbulence, the day you could be Shampooing may not be far.

The Cook Gets Married by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

Why do you want to get everyone married? What business is it of yours? Let them get married as they like.

This might sound familiar from a sitcom, or a movie, or a drama. 

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story ‘The Cook Gets Married’, a.k.a ‘The Cook’s Wedding’, is a hilarious take on marriages in general and arranged marriages in particular in the 19th century Russia.

The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1885. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

The Cook Gets Married: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story, presented from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy, Grisha, opens in the house kitchen where the nanny Aksinya is entertaining a peasant named Danilo in what seems to be an attempt to set up a match between him and one of the housemaids named Pelageya. Pelagia doesn’t seem too keen on the match, while Danilo, Akisinya, and Grisha’s mom do.

The nanny makes general inquiries about Danilo’s livelihood and financial situation; Danilo answers the questions while also indicating that he would love to marry if Pelageya was willing. Pelageya seems anything but. 

Grisha is soon made to leave the room and study, but he can’t bring himself to do so. His thoughts drift to the futility of setting up a match for poor Pelageya. 

Danilo was too uncivil, uncouth for her, and unlike his father and his Pavel Andrich, who were rich people, their poverty didn’t jive with what was a marital requirement in Grisha’s mind.

Mom tries to put in a good word about Danilo in Pelageya’s head. After all, he was a good man that didn’t drink. She is soon joined by the nanny, who repeats the same message, and that it would suit her to marry him. 

Grisha witnesses all the persuasion going around, the increasing visits from neighborhood cooks and maids that got a whiff of the match. He later dreams about Pegaleya’s abduction.

A wedding follows, leaving Grisha further confused. Why should Pelageya marry this poor man? Why are his parents not saving her? 

As if that was not enough, Danilo comes up one day and asks for Pelageya’s salary advance. 

Grisha’s heart goes out to her, and as a gesture of kindness and consolation, he picks up the biggest apple from the kitchen, hands it over to Pelageya, and runs out.

The Cook Gets Married: Review and My Thoughts

I loved the story. It was heartwarming, mainly because it brings an innocent perspective on such a cliche topic. ‘Well meaning’ relatives and friends are eager to marry people off, and there is no novelty in that. 

However, the exciting thing was a child’s perspective, and it shone a refreshing light on the whole affair. The boy didn’t know much about the social construct or the requirements; he was processing what he saw in real-time. That’s the very reason my favorite character was the Chubby little Grisha. 

He is no ordinary seven-year-old boy, mind you; he is empathetic, sometimes wise beyond his years, and sometimes just the cute little boy that he is.

He can spot the oddity in the cabby’s manners right from the start. The boy, coming from a refined family, finds it strange that a man could behave like this. 

Poor boy! It’s adorable. At the end of the day, he is still a child.

He was holding the saucer in five fingers of his right hand and drinking tea from it, biting it so noisily that it sent Shivers down Grisha’s spine.

He is also very quick to spot the difference in Pegaleya’s behavior; it’s just not characteristic of her behaving that way. This puzzles Grisha.

Never once did she glance at the table where they were drinking tea, and to the questions the nanny put to her, she replied curtly, sternly, without turning her face.

Over dinner as Pegaleya served the food, the diners all looked her in the face and teased her about the cabby. She blushed terribly and giggled unnaturally.

Being young as he is, the boy doesn’t have an awful lot of understanding of the adult world. In his mind, Pelagaya’s off behavior pointed to shame. It must be shameful to get married, terribly shameful.

He doesn’t have a very high opinion of the caddy. After the events of the day transpire, and he retires to sleep, he still thinks of Pelagaya, although in his dreams, he sees her being abducted by the witch. 

Look at the extent to which he feels for the Pelageya.

Falling asleep after that, Grisha dreamed that Pegaleya was being abducted by a Chernomor and a witch.

He is surprised that his mom and dad aren’t standing up to protect Pelageya, conjuring up all sorts of mistreatment that the cabby would be doling out on her.

Poor thing, Poor thing! Where are they taking her? Why don’t Papa and Mama stand up for her?

Poor thing, now she is crying somewhere in the dark, and the cabby tells her: Shut up, shut up!

It’s curious to him that suddenly, Pelageya, free as a bird’ has been put in a cage, one where her every move is monitored, and Cabby has the first claim on her property. This is disconcerting to him; he feels for the victim deeply and does what innocent kids do best.

Such a lovely and sweet gesture. Perfectly aww-worthy.

He wanted passionately, to the point of tears, to be nice to his victim, as he thought, of people’s abuse. Choosing the biggest apple in the pantry, he snuck into the kitchen, put it in Pelagaya’s hand, and rushed back out again.

I couldn’t get over it; the little boy is an absolute delight, downright adorable! If only every child were like Chekhov’s Grisha, the world would be such a better place. The nanny, the mom, the other cooks, the cabby, everyone can learn from him. I did too.

William Wordsworth once said, ‘A child is the father of man.’ Children like Grisha make the world a better place, one little kindness at a time.

Fat and Skinny by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

Every now and then, I would see some images being circulated in the media, beginning with ‘Happiness is..’ so and so. Eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, you name it. 

All of those apply to me, by the way. Occasionally, all at the same time. Aside from that, maybe, meeting an old friend I haven’t seen in a very long time in a chance encounter would make the cut. Because it lets me do all the things I love over again… eating, drinking etc., you get the gist. 

More often than not, friendship is built on similarities. I am sure you have heard of birds of the same feather flock together.

Now, what happens when you started off being similar, but then you grew more dissimilar over the years? Imagine you and your friend grew up to belong to different social strata; would that alone be enough to strangle your friendship?

“Enough now! Why this tone? You and I have been friends from childhood – no need to go bowing to rank!”

This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story ‘Fat and Skinny’ explores just that- themes of friendship, society, class, and hypocrisy. The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1883. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two Stories published by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Disclaimer: Fat and Skinny are just characters in the story; no offense is meant to people of either size by using the references. I have been part of both those size groups in my life so far and currently belong to the former group.

Fat and Skinny: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with a chance encounter between two old friends at a train station- one fat and one skinny. Misha, the fat one, and Porfiry, the skinny one, are visibly happy seeing one another. The tears in their eyes are genuine. 

While the fat one is traveling alone, the skinny one is traveling with his family and loses no time in making the introductions for Misha, his wife Louisa, and his son Nathaniel.

They begin talking about work when Misha asks if Porfiry worked for the government and if he had worked his way up. Porfiry makes his living working as a collegiate assessor, supporting his meager salary by a very modest side business and his wife’s music lessons. They are making it work somehow.

Porfiry enquires the same of Misha and gets to know that he has done very well for himself and holds an important government position. 

Porfiry’s immediate reaction is of shock, which is quickly replaced by what seems to be a completely fake display of happiness and veneration. 

The environment suddenly turns very formal. He starts addressing Misha as ‘sir’. His wife is in shock, whereas his child tries to look more proper for the occasion, standing in attention, buttoning up his shirt.

Misha, detecting a change in the environment, immediately asks his friend to drop the act; they were childhood friends after all! 

However, this seems to have an opposite effect on Porfiry, who becomes more formal and servile in his conversations with him. This sickens Misha to the core, who turned to bid farewell; they part company but not before bowing down to Misha with his whole body.

Fat and Skinny: Review and My Thoughts

This story, laden with sharp observations, hits a raw nerve- drawing the contrast between the purity of a friendship in childhood to the utilitarian alliance between the same people in adulthood. 

The love between the two friends is evident. Their eyes are filled with tears when they see each other (awwww!); everything between them is still very innocent and pure. They are nostalgic, reminiscing of all the fun they had as children, nicknames, and whatnot.

As soon as the topic of their work and the class came up; things began to change. Even the seemingly disinterested wife and child either cannot hide their shock or are too eager to impress. The minute the friend turns out to be from a different class, he is not a friend anymore – he is an authoritative figure to be revered or impressed.

Maybe Misha is not the one that cares about authority much, Porfiry is still the same childhood friend, but not. The divide of class between them is something that their friendship doesn’t survive. It’s sad to see two friends drifting apart because of that.

The story is sad and painful- because it is realistic. It happens all too often, regardless of whether you live and work in a country with a high or low power distance index. The story is just a painful reminder that there are friends that you are going to lose to sheer ‘class’.

The story made me sad, so I went to seek comfort in Mark twain’s words:

An enemy can partly ruin a man, but it takes a good-natured injudicious friend to complete the thing and make it perfect.

Losing a friend doesn’t sound half as bad now, does it?