Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Young Zhenia’s life and thoughts are presented in a rich, poetic language that, even for the most valiant and gifted translator, eludes precise rendition. The work originally was intended to be the opening portion of a novel, and it is often presented on its own as a story. The plot is uncomplicated and sometimes appears fragmented. The author tarries at some passages, whereas elsewhere time goes by unnoticed. The story is told in the third person but draws the reader directly into the world of feeling and experience that envelops young Zhenia. There are a few interventions in the narrative on the part of the author, mostly to trace the family’s movements or to supply essential facts about their work or education.

Much of the work records Zhenia’s own sensations and impressions of the world around her, some of which are imprinted most vividly on her memory. She recalls in detail lush, thick bearskin carpets of different colors. Mundane but discrete and clearly defined objects—budding trees, or ice floes on the river—are closely described and seem set in counterpoint to the more enduring transformations engulfing her. Climatic conditions, which foreshadow stages of Zhenia’s own development, are recorded with a fine sense of feeling and atmosphere. Sometimes her French lessons, the chills of early spring, and throbbing headaches are inchoately intertwined. Perceptions that often seem scattered and kaleidoscopic during the first part of the story, which presents the girl’s earliest memories, become more specific and lucid as Zhenia gains in maturity. Whole, connected conversations and episodes are set down, and Zhenia’s view of the world takes on a somewhat sharper, clearer focus. Dikikh, the tutor, for example, is described more specifically and at greater length than any comparable characters from the first section of the work. All the while Zhenia still seems under the spell of powerful emotional forces; she perceives people and events at times as wordless impressions, producing sudden uncontrollable impulses that accompany her own unsteady but oncoming passage into adulthoood.