You all know how much I love my Russian authors, so it’s no surprise that I reverted back to Dostoevsky for this month’s What I’m Reading. This is a collection of his short stories, also translated to “A Nasty Story” and “A Most Unfortunate Incident.” I’ll be focusing on the title story. For those of you who are new to Russian lit, something like this would be a good way to get your feet wet. The satirical story follows Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky, a civil servant who (surprise) gets drunk and starts spouting philosophy. Ivan decides that his new way of life should involve being nicer to people of lesser status than himself. To do this he ends up crashing a wedding and, instead of becoming friends with the “common” people, makes a complete fool of himself. He gets increasingly drunk and ultimately becomes sick. The happy couple can’t just ditch him for fear of him dying, so they are forced to let him sleep in the only available place – the nuptial bed.
Although this story lacks the psychological complexity of much of Dostoevsky’s other works, it isolates his comedic gift. This could well be an episode from a TV show a la The Office or 30 Rock. It’s a very quick read and immediately rewarding. Naturally I would recommend any and all Dostoevsky to you. But the humor in Russian literature is one of its most undervalued aspects and this story is a great showcase of that comedic value. Full of slapstick style moments, A Disgraceful Affair is a middle ground between high-brow Russian novels and low-brow comedy sketches.
Photos by Jamie Ditaranto.