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Invisible Books: Sergei Dovlatov

October 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I hadn’t heard of late Soviet-era satirist Sergei Dovlatov until I saw the biopic on Netflix about him last year. Intrigued, I ordered copies of the three of his books in print in English. My favourite of these is probably Pushkin Hills, a semi-autobiographical account of a struggling writer’s angst at the thought of his ex-wife and child leaving for the West while he fritters away his time providing tours of the Pushkin Estate to bored Eastern-bloc tourists in the 1970s. Dovlatov has a light touch, reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are always amusing. The Suitcase is a collection of short tales about items supposedly contained in the protagonist’s suitcase when he finally follows ex-wife and child to America. Finally, The Zone is an account of the author’s time as a prison-camp guard in Brezhnev’s USSR. All three of these titles are well-worth reading and readily available from Alma Classics. 

Dovlatov died of cancer in his mid-forties, but he lived long enough to produce plenty of books and even publish a number of stories in The New Yorker. The only other title of his I’ve been able to track down cheaply secondhand is Ours: A Russian Family Album which, like The Suitcase, is a loose but very enjoyable collection of tales.  Overlook Press supposedly re-published Dovlatov’s The Invisible Book a few years back, but I can find no copies of it for sale either new or secondhand, and so I can only presume it was never released.

 

Lastly, there are two other books published in English, A Foreign Woman and The Compromise, but these are long out of print and horrendously expensive secondhand. I’m hoping that Alma Classics may consider expanding their Dovlatov collection in the near future, perhaps in part due to the increased attention Dovlatov has received due to the biopic. I certainly hope so, because I think the author may be among the very best of the chroniclers of the absurdities of the late-Soviet period.