Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sergei Dovlatov

Sergei Dovlatov (sehr-GAY doh-VLAH-tov), a journalist in his mid-thirties, formerly a camp guard. Educated as a philologist, he is talented, very tall, and an alcoholic. Something of a dissident (he is part Jewish), he works for an Estonian newspaper. He is separated from his wife and behind in his alimony payments. In telling the reader the truth behind several apparently innocuous “compromising” human interest stories he had written for his newspaper, the narrator presents himself as the center of a kind of novel that ends with the reporter’s return to his family in Leningrad. It is Dovlatov as author who in fact recalls the events behind the stories, but the narrator appears to be fictional, if for no other reason than that his surname is almost never mentioned or, if it is, usually is rendered incorrectly by one of the characters, as Dolmatov, Dokladov, Zaplatov, or some other variation.

Mikhail (Misha) Borisovich Shablinsky

Mikhail (Misha) Borisovich Shablinsky (boh-RIH-soh-vihch shah-BLIH-skee), a reporter for the “industry desk” at the newspaper, an excellent but cynical writer who is ruthlessly successful with women. He finally decides to get married and therefore breaks up with Marina, who in turn takes up with Dovlatov. Shablinsky is an established journalist and a...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrator is identified once by the first name of the author and twice by the author’s surname. Like the author, he is very tall. A pretty young Estonian girl named Evi, who falls in love with the journalist for a night, tells him that he looks like Omar Sharif. “Who?” he says. Yet the real Dovlatov, who is half Armenian and half Jewish, does indeed resemble Sharif. The narrator immodestly allows the reader to understand that he is an excellent journalist, except that the boss cannot trust him because of his perpetual drinking and his political irreverence—called “cynicism” by Turonok. A character emerges who is talented, intelligent, witty and handsome. Almost all the female characters in the novel either love him or have once loved him. He has a reputation for infidelity. Yet Dovlatov prefers to show the reader that his brief dalliance with the Estonian girl soon makes him feel guilty; he purposely drinks so much that he can no longer perform sexually with her. He thus does not quite appear to be a male chauvinist, as do almost all the other Soviet males in the book, but he is a type that women like, and he takes advantage of that. This causes him trouble and is a source for wry humor. Apropos of his relations with women, he declares that he is a “good man,” adding that he can say that “without the slightest embarrassment, because it is nothing to be proud of.” That is, “Women only love scoundrels, as everyone knows.”

In short, Dovlatov has great potential as a human being, yet he is an alcoholic, a divorced person with a child,...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. “Kitsch and the Novel,” in The New York Review of Books. XXXI (November 22, 1984), pp. 28-32.

Fiene, Donald M. “Sergei Dovlatov: The Compromise,” in Slavic and East European Journal. XXVIII (Winter, 1984), pp. 552-553.

Karriker, Alexandra H. “Sergei Dovlatov: The Compromise,” in World Literature Today. LVIII (Autumn, 1984), p. 622.

Rosenberg, Karen. “Of Compromise and Corruption,” in The Nation. CCXXXVII (November 5, 1983), p. 437.

Serman, Ilia. “Teatr Sergeia Dovlatova,” in Grani. L, no. 136 (1985), pp. 138-162.

Williams, Frank. “Bottle-Blight,” in The Times Literary Supplement. December 16, 1983, p. 1413.