One of the book subscriptions I chose for my 2017 book subscription challenge is & Other Stories, a community interest company that uses all its profits to continue publishing. This is unlike other subscriptions in that the money I paid for my subscription will go directly to pay for the production of the books I receive. From what I can tell, most – if not all – of their books are translations.
As a result of their unique schedule, I signed up in December 2016 but won’t get a book until June 2017. Because they are such nice people, they gave me my choice of free ebooks to check out while I wait. My choices were:
- All the Lights by Clemens Meyer / translated by Katy Derbyshire
- Open Door by Iosi Havilio / translated by Beth Fowler
- Captain of the Steppe by Oleg Pavlov / translated by Ian Appleby
- All Dogs are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão / translated by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler
- Happiness is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky / translated by Andrew Bromfield
I chose Captain of the Steppe because the author was the winner of the Solzhenitsyn Prize in 2012 and the Russian Booker Prize in 2002. I’m not exactly learned in contemporary Russian literature, so I thought I’d be an interesting departure from the books I usually pick up.
Unfortunately, this book was not for me. The point seems to be that the USSR was bad and bureaucracy was bad, and those points are made by telling the story of a Captain in the armed forces who decided that instead of eating the rotting potatoes his unit gets to eat, he’s going to plant them so they’ll have fresh, non-rotting potatoes the following potato-eating season.
He doesn’t get anyone’s permission to do this, and once some higher-ups learn about his potato scam, he gets in some ridiculous trouble. That premise sounds fine, but the problem for me is that it basically took hundreds of pages to get that story across. This was a book I had to force myself to not skim and really once I understood the basics of the situation, not much more was learned. We just learned the same thing over and over again.
This book wasn’t for me but I still have high hopes for this press and the books I’ll start receiving in June. I mean, I’ll be listed in the back of the book as a subscriber, so we already know there’ll be at least a few brilliant words, yes?
Rating: 3/10 The premise was interesting enough I just didn’t think it lived up to what it could have been.
Recommended for: Russian military enthusiasts
Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? See below
Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: The purpose of these stats is to consider how companies that offer book subscriptions fare over the year. Since I chose the book this month, I’m not going to hold them accountable.