Thursday, March 25, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: Polikushka (povest / a tale)

Поликушка. RU 1863. Translated into Finnish by Juhani Konkka. Hämeenlinna: Karisto 1957.

Leo Tolstoy is my favourite writer, and I read Polikushka for the first time because we'll screen a film based on it next week. Polikushka was one of the few fiction works Tolstoy wrote in the years immediately preceding War and Peace. Serfdom had been abolished in Russia in 1861, and Tolstoy was passionately involved in organizing a new life in the countryside. He had been devoted to organizing village school education in the spirit of Rousseau, and he had just gotten married. He published the magisterial The Cossacks to cover a gambling debt, but in the process his appetite for writing returned, and he finished Polikushka from a draft started during his visit in Brussels in 1861. It is based on a true story he heard there from his Russian friends.

It is a gripping povest (tale) of the farmhand Polikei and his battle against the bottle. It is about the vicious circle of poverty: the fact that Polikei's cap is very worn plays a part in the tragedy. It is about the power of money, its demonic force. In this, Polikushka is a companion piece to The False Note, which can be seen as developing the theme further. It is also a story about corruption and the trickery and injustice in the connection of military draft. A short tale with wide implications about society. Most of all, it is about the struggle for redemption. Vigorously told, with satire, humour, compassion, bitterness and indignation.

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