[BEST WORK OF JOURNALISM WRITTEN IN THE 19th CENTURY] Ostrov Sakhalin. Iz putevykh zametok [i.e. Sakhalin Island. From the Travel Notes]
Moscow: I.N. Kushnerev, 1895. Item #610
, III, 520 pp. 19,5x14 cm. Contemporary quarter leather. Gilt lettering on the spine. Minor restoration of the spine otherwise a very good copy.
The first edition of the famous Anton Chekhov’s (1860-1904) travel diaries. Chekhov was sending his notes to the periodical ‘Russkaya Mysl’ [i.e. Russian Thought] from 1893 till 1895, but when this book came out Chekhov added another 4 chapters to the end of the book.
In 1890 Chekhov, already a well-known playwright, has visited the island of Sakhalin in Northern Pacific, north of Japan, which was used at the time as a penal colony for convicts and repetitive offenders. For three months Chekhov was interviewing local settlers and convicts. The detailed account of the life of the people on the island painted a picture of social injustice in the far end of the Russian Empire. The book was written in anger and appeals to the government demanding a humane treatment of the people. Some of the harsher examples including floggings, embezzlement of supplies, and forced prostitution of women. Because of the remoteness of the place we can presume that without Chekhov we wouldn’t know the details of life on Sakhalin at the time.
The New Yorker named “Sakhalin Island” the best work of journalism written in the 19th century: “The reason [...] is that, unlike other major journalistic works from that period (for example, journalism from the Crimean War), the book has not aged. There are two causes for this. The nine articles that became “Sakhalin Island” are each so long that they give Chekhov the space to build up characters and narrative arcs. Second, Chekhov’s articles are mostly about closely observed humanity. In Chekhov’s case, unlike that of his contemporaries, this observation of human behaviour is lacking in self-censorship. The fact that so few people know of the book, and that among Western critics (not necessarily Russian ones) it is considered a minor masterpiece instead of a major one - inferior to Alexander Herzen’s journals, for example - has something to do with how journalism is rarely considered literature” (The New Yorker) “Sakhalin Island” could be placed in the tradition of Russian classical literature about Russian penal system, with ‘House of the Dead’ by Dostoevsky before and ‘Gulag Archipelago’ by Solzhenitsyn afterwards.
Not found in Worldcat.