Author: Michel Krielaars
Genre: Travel journal
Title: Het brilletje van Tsjechov
Table of Contents: 76 short impressionistic scenes that focus on a particular insight about Russia
Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published by Atlas Contact
Timeline: 1989 – 2012
Themes: traveling; looking beyond your own borders
Michel Krielaars takes the reader on a special journey through ‘ his ‘ Russia starting as a student of Russian Literature and ending with his 5 year position as Moscow correspondent for the NRC newspaper. The book combines a travel narrative, which includes
- bits of conversations
- fine descriptive writing
- personal observation
- social analysis.
Strong points :
I found that Krielaars writes what he feels about Russia and that is always more interesting than simply reporting the facts. We get a closer look at alcoholism, position of women, politics, police, health care in this country.
There is indeed a golden thread that runs through the book. Michel Krielaars shows us that Russia in the time of Chekov is strangely similar to the Russia of Putin. During Krielaars’s walks we see the agression felt in clubs against gays, terrible conditions in hospitals, inveterate corruption in all levels of society, a fragile sub-class of people dressed in rags and living from hand to mouth.
During Krielaars’s walks through the cemetaries he sees the tombstones. The young generation was dying due to poor living conditions under the czars, war under Stalin and vodka under Putin. A quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7% of men in the UK and about 10% in the United States. The life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years, placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category. The Russians drink 15 liter pure alcohol per person per year.
Metaphors: I enjoyed the fresh, compact and unexpected metaphors ( comparisons) that Krielaars used. Here is an example:
St. Petersburg – After 2 world wars, 3 revolutions, 1 civil war and 900 days siege by the Germans the town had lost some of its sparkle. It was like a glamorous evening gown that had deteriorated after stress, strain an overuse. You could see through fabric.
Sense of place: Krielaars is a master in creating a sense of place where ever he goes! I found the chapters Terug in Moscow, Aan Tafel and Ondertussen in Melichovo to be most memorable . (pg 253 – 271)
Krielaars weaves his encyclopedic knowledge of Russian writers into his stories. Obivously Chehov is often referred to but also Gogol, Dostoyevski, Radisjtsjev, Pasternak. Krielaars reminds me about all the books in Russian Literature that are just out there waiting to be discovered. I learned French to read the great writers so as Zola, Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert without losing anything in translation. I only wish I could learn Russian too.
I hope my neighbour didn’t hear me laugh while reading l this book late at night in my bedstead ( dutch = bedstee; french = châlit)… walls can be thin in old houses. The contrasts between two cultures ( Dutch – Russian) are hilarious. An ambitious Dutch IT engineer who arrives for a business meeting ends up half naked, sipping vodka and eating smoked fish in a Russian sauna. Contracts and strategy will be discussed but first you have to learn to enjoy life. It’s not easy to shake off the Dutch Calvinistic work ethic!
Krielaars sumed up the country in this short sentance: Russia: “This is a country that has a drink for every hour, vodka, champagne or cognac.”
That was the first word that came into my mind when I finished some of Krielaar’s stories. More than once I was deeply moved ( bouleversée, émute) by these impressions of a Chekov’s Russia. In ” Tea time with the nobility” we meet Mrs. Kljoetsjevskaja. Proud of her ties to the Russian Czar Nicolas II yet she was aware of the potential hostility this could cause in her surroundings. She shivers despite her thick fur coat while in private prayer by the family grave. Krielaars wrote the next line and it took my breath away:
” ..perhaps it was history that brushed along side her…” (Waarschijnlijk was het de geschiedenis die voorbijkwam)
- This book is ‘beyond’ wonderful, it is amazing.
- I could have finished it yesterday but wanted to savour it as long as possible.
- I was enchanted by each and every word. Krielaars breaths life into Chekhov and through his “brilletje” ( pince-nez) reveals to the reader Russia with all its contrasts.
- The author follows the footsteps of Chekhov during his youth, his early carriere as writer, his travels along the Volga and through Siberia to Vladistok. Along the way we are enriched with information about Russian politics, other great Russian writers.
- Krielaars has written a book that I would highly recommend.
- He shows us how Chekhov held a mirror in front of his reading public to show them what Russia really looks like.
- Krielaars has taken Chekhov’s themes and shows us that 110 years later Russia has not changed very much. It is still not ripe for democracy.
- I hope that “Het brilletje van Tsjechov” will be translated into English very soon so more readers can enjoy Michel Krielaars’s book.
- His writing is polished and his impressions of Russian culture are emotionally based and full of humor, irony and tragedy…….just like Chekov!
Isaak Levitan – painter ( Chekov considered him better than Monet and Cezanne!)