It’s been a little while since I felt the compulsive need to write/talk/read about Sergei Dovlatov, the unsung Soviet storyteller whose raw wit and uncomfortable humor trancends national borders, economic philosophies, and continents, even if it never trancended Russian. He is also my favorite author, and the subject of this week’s New Yorker Fiction Podcast.
Dovlatov was at once the ultimate starving artist and the ultimate sell-out hack. He was as reluctant a Soviet as he was an American, and yet he excelled at both. Though he died of liver cirrosis (which, if you’ve read any of his fiction, is painfully ironic) at 48, he was exceptionally prolific. Yet, much deserved notoriety has evaded him, in death as in life. Perhaps because he died at precisely the same historical moment as the Soviet Union, a period in which our interest in our great Cold War nemisis suddenly evaporated into thin air. Perhaps it’s because so little of his work is translated, although that’s a rather specious arguement. In any case, Dovlatov is one of only a few writers you’re more likely to find at your local library than at your local bookstore. Go check him out. Vidoes are in Russian.
Dovlatov on being a writer: