"The Jew" by Ivan Turgenev (1846, 35 pages, translated by Constant Garnett)
|Mr C , A Truer Friend there Never Was|
1992 to 2012
Yesterday was a very sad one for my family. On Valentine's Day our beloved cat, Mr C (also known as Charles or Charlie) passed away at 19.5 years, nearly 100 for us. He was strong up until the last few months of his life and he did have a great life. We took him yesterday to the ancestral home of my wife where we buried him next to his beloved brother Yoda who passed away three years ago at 16.5. Charles has been by my side for so long it is hard to imagine him not sitting next to me as I type. He was older than my oldest daughter and strongly helped me get through the worse part of my own life when my mother passed away. He will always be missed by us all. Not many cats live to 19.5 and he fought off several illnesses in the last couple of years. He had a very powerful personality and demanded constant affection and attention and he did have us trained to cater to his every need and whim.
The ancestral property is about 250 Kilometers from Manila and about 50 years back in time. It is a lovely place on a lake and right across the street from the Sea of China. There are huge mango trees, wild and cultivated orchids and it is located on the main north-south highway. The air there is so clean and fresh it is a pleasure just to breath. My wife and her sister had some business to do so I stayed behind and sat on the front porch enjoying the wonderful view and peace. I took my Ipad along, no wifi up there, and decided to help me get into a better frame of mind I would read short stories by writers of the highest quality. I ended up over seven hours or so reading two stories by Ivan Turgenev, one by Henry James, one by Anton Chekhov, a very weird story by Dostoevsky, a marvelous story by Tolstoy and an Irish fairy tale by James Stephens that anybody who reads will love (Stephens will be a featured writer during Irish Short Story Week Year Two March 12 to March 22). I will post on all of these stories as a tribute to Charlie.
In the very opening pages of his magisterially study, The March of Literature,
Ford Madox Ford lists the short stories of Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883-Russia) as among the supreme artistic achievements of all time. Frank O'Connor in the only book worth reading on the short story, The Lonely Voice,
names two of Turgenev's short stories as the absolute best in the world. (There is some background information on him in my prior posts
on two of his works).
"The Jew" (not the most politically correct title for a short story) is a story told by a colonel in the Russia army in which he is reminiscing for his men about his younger days in the army. He does talk about the Jewish character in the story, a man of forty or so who hangs on the margins of the army camp looking to find ways to make money off of the soldiers and officers of the Russian army, in a grossly antisemitic fashion. This does not, of course, mean that Turgenev is antisemitic. (There is also nothing in the story to clear him from this claim.)
The colonel tells his men of how bored he was during a long siege of a town. He says he was so bored that when the Jew offered to provide him with a woman (in exchange for a fee to himself and the woman) he agreed. Of course the Colonel wants to tells his men a story that will make him "one of the boys" and a story about an encounter with a prostitute will do the trick.
The woman shows up, young with dark hair and beautiful white skin and so lovely. She either does not know why she is there or is a great actress but she does nothing with the Colonel and leaves with a Gold coin. The Colonel is outraged when the Jew comes the next day to ask him if he was satisfied with the woman. The Colonel demands his money back but instead the Jew says he will bring the woman tonight and he will explain to her what she is supposed to do so there is no possibility of misunderstanding.
I do not want to spoil the plot of this pure gem of a story so I will tell no more of what happens. It does give us a good look at life in the Russian army between wars and at attitudes toward Jews in the 1840s. This is just a great short story. Of the stories I read, it is a toss up if this or "Crocodile" by Dostoevsky is the most interesting story.
You can download it from Manybooks
along with a lot of other works by Turgenev. My quick research indicates he wrote 57 works that are considered short stories (many are longer stories). I for sure have it in my plans to read all of them. I will be read his masterwork Fathers and Sons,
I will post on all the stories I mentioned over the course of the next few days.
I do not mean to make anyone sad in my account of the passing of Mr C but the book blog world has a lot of cat lovers among its members who I feel will understand.