Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Suitcase

I took Sergei Dovlatov's The Suitcase with me on a short holiday to the salt baths in the South of Lithuania.  I got a great kick out of this set of anecdotes based on articles of clothing from the Soviet era.  Dovlatov's books are few but are being reprinted and we should all be thankful for it.  He looks at the Soviet past with a wry sense of humor.  I particularly liked his short piece on a statue of Lenin with his two caps.

The New Yorker has a great piece on Dovlatov lifted from the afterward of Pushkin Hills, which is next on my reading list.  He was a journalist for many years, which he recounts in The Suitcase, as well as other brief stints as a sculptor's apprentice.  The Lenin stature fiasco sets up and even more farcical piece on a huge wall relief for a subway station devoted to Mikhail Lomonosov, out of which Sergei managed to nab the mayor's boots.

The stories are more or less based on his experiences, set up when his son discovers the suitcase in the closet of their Forest Hills home in New York.  Dovlatov had left the USSR as part of the Jewish "Aliyah" that began in the early 70s.  For years, it seemed he accepted his fate, which included an unhappy marriage recounted in one of the stories centered on a poplin shirt.  After his wife left for Israel, he decided to make his move as well, eventually catching up with her and settling in the United States.

He started an emigre newspaper and was published in The New Yorker, but sadly the drinking caught up to him and he passed away in 1990, not quite 50.  All together, 12 short books were published.  The Suitcase in 1986.  Most were written after he left the Soviet Union.