For week #2 of the 2015 edition of the Deal Me In challenge, hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis, I’ve drawn my second Jack – the Jack of Spades, representing the story “Electrification” by Mikhail Zoshchenko.
Source: Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (Penguin Classics)
About the author: According to Wikipedia, Mikhail Zoshchenko was a Ukranian-Russian author and satirist in the Soviet era, living from 1895 to 1958. He had broad appeal due to his “compact” and “accessible” style.
Synopsis: The story, first published in 1924, is very short. According to inspirationbit.com, the title of the story is taken from one of Lenin’s slogans: “Communism is Soviet Power plus the Electrification of the Whole Country”. (The entire story is reprinted at that link.) It concerns a man and his wife and the changes they experience when electric lights are installed in their apartment. This new symbol of increased prosperity proves a mixed blessing, illuminating the shabby nature of their lives – a state that had been dulled and easier to accept by candlelight.
Excerpt: “What, brothers, is today’s most fashionable word? Today’s most fashionable word of all is, of course, ‘electrification’. Lighting up Soviet Russia with light, without doubt, is a matter of massive importance. No one can argue with that. But it does, for the time being, have its downside. I’m not saying, comrades, that it costs too much. It costs money – that’s all. No, I’m saying something different.”
My thoughts: The story makes a poignant point about the double-edged sword of prosperity and of being made aware of one’s own station. I really can’t say too much about this story without practically paraphrasing the entire thing here, as it’s simply that brief a tale. I will say that I found it a thoughtful bit of satire, tinged with melancholy and bitter humor. I do recommend reading it. What I find most remarkable is that it was published at all! It’s quite critical of Soviet-style growth, in a way that I wouldn’t have thought would be tolerated, considering how many satirical works were suppressed during that period. I had to do a bit of research to sate my curiosity. It seems that Zoshchenko’s work was not only well-loved by readers in the 1920s and 1930s, but was also tolerated by the state. But by the 1940s he came under suspicion, and his work was targeted as unpatriotic by Stalin.
This from Russiapedia: “Zoshchenko, along with poet Anna Akhmatova, was expelled by special decree [from the Soviet Writers’ Union] and deprived of his ‘worker’s ration card’ – the only way to get food during a time of widespread starvation. Publishers, journals and theaters began cancelling their contracts with Zoshchenko, and demanded he return the advances he was given.”
Despite reinstatement to the Writers’ Union after Stalin’s death, Zoshchenko fell into a deep depression and eventually died. It seems that after his official censure, he never regained his footing as an author, but a healthy number of his stories survive to this day, and his satirical words still have truths to impart.