There are redemptive moments here, and comedy, but mundane graft and casual violence permeate Osipov’s tales. The worst events are often described with devastating economy... These are engaging translations from a team with a very strong track record. Anne Marie Jackson helped introduce anglophone readers to the unforgettable tales of Teffi. Boris Dralyuk has produced pitch-perfect versions of stories by Isaac Babel, among others, and co-edited the phenomenal Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. As a doctor and a writer of short stories, Osipov inevitably gets compared to Anton Chekhov, whose dark comedy is clearly influential, as is the Chekhovian idea that the writer’s task is not to solve problems but to state them clearly... There’s something poetic in the stories themselves, in their well-crafted style, form and imagery. Literature, happiness, survival itself are minor miracles in Osipov’s collection.
Instead of a clear story, what Cooper offers, very boldly and successfully, is a broad narrative arc of collapse and tentative recovery, in which a struggle for meaning and purpose in life assumes a desperate intensity. The radical lopsidedness created by the narrator’s omissions makes these solipsistic fragments (and at times these lonely pages do cry out for a bit more human company) life-affirming, as well as fiercely harrowing, in a very unusual way. Because of the narrator’s inability to describe his anguish, what’s mostly written here is not his pain, but his clinging to life: the beauty caught and traced, with great skill, in trying to overcome suffering.
Osipov’s writing is as precise as a surgeon’s cut. He is a doctor (like Chekhov and Bulgakov) and practises in Tarusa, a small town 90 miles outside Moscow. The characters he draws show how intimately he gets to know people through his profession. There is also a lack of sentimentality in the way Osipov narrates their lives — another doctor’s trademark, perhaps... Short stories are, of course, notoriously difficult to get right. Many of these works never quite develop: they tease the appetite but don’t fill you up. Yet Osipov has a knack for finding multi-layered characters. Perhaps the most accomplished story is “Polish Friend”. It’s short and elegantly poignant... Like a good doctor, Osipov finds the right balance between brutal honesty and reassuring comfort. And that is the best a patient, or a reader, can hope for.