When I saw Pushkin’s name on this, it was very familiar of course, but I couldn’t remember reading anything by him. Come to find out, he may be the Father of Russian Literature, but he’s a poet, and I mostly do novels. But the familiar feeling I was getting was because he was also the go-to source for the Russian romantic composers, a genre I have always loved. Ruslan and Lyudmila? Overture by Glinka. Eugene Onegin? An opera by Tchaikovsky, best known for its waltz. Boris Godunov? That massive bear of an opera by Mussorgsky. And so many more. So I was curious to see what his “Experiments in Prose” were like but. . .
The verdict is, wow, so uneven. As far as I can see, the poor lad just couldn’t stick the landing. For example, the first story, Peter the Great’s African, is the true life story of his great grandparents. Ibrahim, a former African slave, became a protégé of Peter the Great, who quickly recognized his potential. He was soon sent to Paris, to be taught Western mores, and the ladies instantly realized this guy was hawwt (fanning themselves). He fell in mutual love with a wealthy countess, who couldn’t believe her luck, and they were all set to marry, when bam. Peter wanted him back in Moscow. Well, he owes everything to Peter, so back he went. Then Peter gets a bee in his bonnet about Ibrahim needing a bride, and he knows just who. A delicately raised aristocratic lass, from a wealthy family, what could go wrong? But apparently nobody gave this girl a heads up, and upon meeting her husband-to-be, she faints dead away. And that’s it! What, you going to leave us hanging? We know you are their great-grandson, Pushkin, so don’t try and play the innocent. Did they actually fall in love down the road? Did she just close her eyes and think of Mother Russia? Don’t leave us hanging!
There were a few other stories, but they had the same issue. Great start, and then fizzle. Alas, in the end, unsatisfying. The Father of Russian Literature, maybe, but I would have argued for a novelist. Gogol, maybe?