The Village

Ivan Bunin

translated from the Russian
Oneworld Classics 2009 [1910]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2012
Their ancestors were serfs, peasants and thieves, but Tikhon runs a shop and has acquired a tiny estate, while Kuzma has educated himself and published a book of poetry. In The Village Ivan Bunin offers us a portrait of life in a village in Russia in 1905, from the perspective of two brothers who have risen a little in the world.

The result is a devastatingly bleak portrait of village society. Bunin avoids any extremes of brutality, filth or ignorance, instead showing us rural life through two moderately successful and not entirely unattractive individuals (representing different Russian types). This only helps to highlight the narrowness and emptiness of peasant life and its limitations and constraints.

We also get some commentary on literature, by Kuzma and his autodidact teacher, which serves to undermine everything from the old epics through to the modern novel. Similarly, the discussion of politics — with the dramas of 1905 as a backdrop —- demonstrates how poorly rural Russia understands metropolitan politics and how little an effect that has on their lives.

The Village is not all negative, however. It has some wonderfully evocative descriptions of landscapes and settings and some compelling character portraits, sub-stories and conversations. The Durnovka estate is not somewhere we would choose as a tourist destination, let alone a place to live, but Bunin makes a short visit to it, from the safe distance of a century and the printed page, quite engrossing.

This edition includes thirty pages of "extra material", including brief notes explaining names and cultural references, an essay on Bunin and his work, and the first few pages of The Village (Derevnia) in the original Russian.

June 2012

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%T The Village
%A Bunin, Ivan
%M Russian
%F Aplin, Galya
%F Aplin, Hugh
%I Oneworld Classics
%D 2009 [1910]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781847491046
%P 165pp