Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reading. Bulgakov.

I have been reading Bulgakov for ten years now, off and on. Even when I am distracted by other writers, other languages, other books, I always come back to him. His writing can be satirical, sharp, passionate, despairing, bleak, tragic, funny, hopeful, and tender (and The Master and Margarita is all of those). Some time in my early years of reading his work I tried to find all of his books (an obsession of mine, to read everything by an author I've discovered). The result was several novels and a volume of short stories that have followed me across time, across continents. I have not read most of them in ages, save for one short story I come back to again and again.

Perhaps my favorite of Bulgakov's works (aside from, obviously, The Master and Margarita) is the short story Psalm. A little boy visits his neighbor, who makes tea and tells him a bedtime story, about Slavka (the little boy), who misbehaves, but in the end repents and as a reward is given a bicycle (which the little boy wants). When reading it I can see the cone of light falling across the page of a book, the steam rising from the kettle, the way the light "peeks through the worn sateen cover like a thousand eyes." Imagine living in the crowded apartment buildings, the gossip of neighbors. The taste of sweet hot tea. It is just a brief glimpse into a life, this lonely man and a little boy, whose mother is waiting for her husband to return, even though he never will. I think that it is written so beautifully and tenderly that when I read it before bedtime I hold my pillow a little tighter and sleep more deeply.

It's all right, somehow we'll have a beautiful life.

(From Diaboliad and Other Stories, Ardis, 1993).

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