Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

Sergei Dovlatov

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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 member of the Communist Party; the narrator, though a superior writer, is not a Party member.


Marina (mah-REE-nah), one of the secretarial workers at the newspaper. She is around thirty years old and single. She smokes, is well-informed, and is somewhat bitter about men. She sees Dovlatov as pensive, polite, and honest, in keeping with his pattern of being liked by cast-off women. The narrator is inclined to view their relationship as one of intellectual intimacy, with shades of animosity and sex. To Marina, this is love, and she weeps over Dovlatov in frustration.

Henry Franzovich Turonok

Henry Franzovich Turonok (FRAHN-zoh-vihch tew-ROH-nok), the editor-in-chief of Dovlatov’s newspaper and an important member of the Communist Party. He continually accuses Dovlatov of political myopia, for not understanding, for example, that in a list of socialist countries Hungary should follow East Germany, because in Hungary there was an uprising. When he assigns Dovlatov to do a story on the birth of the 400,000th inhabitant of the city of Tallinn, he rejects first a newborn Ethiopian baby and then a Jewish child, finally allowing Dovlatov, by then very drunk after waiting around the hospital all night, to write about a 100 percent Russian infant and the infant’s parents.

Mikhail Vladimirovich Zhbankov

Mikhail Vladimirovich Zhbankov (vlah-dih-MIH-roh-vihch ZHBAN-kov), an alcoholic photographer for the newspaper. He makes a number of disconcerting anti-Semitic remarks but later turns out to be Jewish himself. He is occasionally assigned to work with Dovlatov on stories. A typical such story is the achievement of an Estonian milkmaid, Linda Peips, in extracting a record-breaking amount of milk out of one cow. Dovlatov and Zhbankov drive to the collective farm and interview the girl, who does not even speak Russian. They stay on for two days, however, drinking excessively and having sexual intercourse with their young Party hostesses.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642

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...

(The entire section contains 1237 words.)

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Critical Essays