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132594 132594_1 132594_2
132594
CHEKHOV, Anton Pavlovich.

Ostrov Sakhalin. Iz putevykh zametok....

(Sakhalin Island, from travel notes.)

Availability: In stock

Published: Moscow I. N. Kushnerev, 1895

Stock Code: 132594

£4,500
OR On display in 43 Dover Street

Notes

First edition in book form of Chekhov's first-hand investigative report on the much-contested north Pacific island. Chekhov visited Sakhalin in 1890, and his account was first serialised in the popular journal Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought) in 1893-94. This book version includes four additional chapters; Chekhov also revised and corrected the previous published text.
When Chekhov, already a well-known playwright, visited Sakhalin, it had been established for over 30 years as an exceptionally harsh penal colony for hardened criminals and recidivists. For three months Chekhov interviewed local settlers and convicts, producing a detailed investigation into the realities of life on the island, painting a picture of appalling social injustice secreted at the furthest limits of the Russian Empire. He portrayed a world of arbitrary floggings, defalcation of funds and theft of supplies, and of forced prostitution. Writing in anger he appealed in vain to the humanity of the government, demanding an improvement in conditions. Due to Sakhilin's remote location, it is doubtful whether we would have any real knowledge of the penal colony as it was in the late 19th century without Chekhov's witness.
In an illuminating New Yorker essay on the work ("Chekhov's Beautiful Non-fiction", 2 Feb. 2015), Hemingway/PEN award winner Akhil Sharma identifies Sakhalin Island as "the best work of journalism written in the 19th century The nine articles that became Sakhalin Island are each so long that they give Chekhov space to build up characters and narrative arcs and are mostly about closely observed humanity In Chekhov's case, unlike that of his contemporaries, his observation of human behaviour is lacking in self-censorship. He is willing to write about anything, and he is willing to see everything with compassion it has the pleasure of moving through a physical, distinct world and the keenness of documentary analysis. (At one point, Chekhov begins parsing mining contracts to show how money is being stolen.) Yet it retains the gorgeous prose and the deep compassion of fiction". Seriously underrated, perhaps because journalism is rarely considered literature, this is a work that deserves to be considered alongside Dostoyesvky's House of the Dead and Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago as classics in a tradition of Russian literary engagement with the penal system.
Decidedly uncommon: OCLC locates just six copies, at Yale, Harvard, NYPL Stanford, LoC, and Vaughan Public Library, Ontario, Canada, the last with a St Petersburg imprint.

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Description

Octavo. Contemporary brown quarter sheep, matching pebble-grained cloth, title gilt direct to the spine.

Condition

A little rubbed, neatly rebacked with the original spine laid down, hinges repaired with linen, endpapers quite heavily browned, the text-block more lightly and variably so, very good.

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