Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Griboedov’

The Top 12 List of the Favorite Fiction I Have Read in 2020


This being the year of the lockdown, I had time to read a couple of lengthy doorstop novels (‘The Maias’ and ‘Life A User’s Manual’) just like I used to do before I began writing regular blog posts. Also this year I discovered that there was some amazing fiction from the past which I had missed previously.

Click on either the bold-faced title or the cover image to see my original review for each work.


The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós (1888) – ‘The Maias’ is a jaunty vastly pleasurable trip in mid-to-late 19th-century Lisbon, Portugal society with some lively quick-witted companions. Readers new to Eça de Queirós can start with the short novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ to determine if you like his style of writing or not.


‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar (2020) – ‘A Burning’ is a vivid powerful novel which focuses on one of the major crises in our world today, racial hatred. ‘A Burning’ is a world-changer if enough people read it and take it to their minds and souls.




‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) – A most intense depiction of family life and death in the late 16th century. Imagine an entire novel about William Shakespeare that contains not one line from his plays or his sonnets.




‘Tyll’ by Daniel Kehlmann (2017) – ‘Tyll’ is a sometimes light, sometimes black comedy which entirely suits the Thirty Years War. This novel is fascinating at the sentence level, a real accomplishment for both the author and the translator. Daniel Kehlmann brings a smart playful quality to his fiction that makes his writing well nigh irresistible.


Missionaries’ by Phil Klay (2020) – ‘Missionaries’ is a novel about the United States’ never-ending, misbegotten wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, and now Yemen. It is most focused on the drug wars in Colombia. ‘Missionaries’ opened my eyes to what is really happening in this world. It is a novel that will change your entire worldview.


‘Woe From Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.


‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman (2017) – Someone could argue that the story in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is not very sophisticated. I do not see sophistication as a necessary or even desirable attribute of literature. Rather I see stating situations as simply and clearly as possible as one of the hallmarks of good literature, and that ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ does. Eleanor Oliphant’ is a poignant and affecting story.


‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor (2016) – ‘Hurricane Season’ is not for the squeamish or easily offended. The characters in this novel tell the truth about some very rough things. They are angry and the words they use are coarse and direct. Read ‘Hurricane Season’ if you are brave and honest enough to take it.



Other People’s Love Affairs’ by D. Wystan Owen (2018) – These eloquent stories go deeper into the circumstances and the psyches of their main characters than most stories do. People in them almost connect but not quite. This is a collection of short stories which will move you if you are willing to be moved.


‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid (2020) – ‘Such a Fun Age’ is a novel with a light touch that captures the dialogue of people socializing, whether it be a group at a party or dinner or just two people alone. Rather than an individual character contemplating a problem or situation, we get the interplay of many voices. What this novel really excels in are exchanges between groups of young women, whether young mothers or young single women. Kiley Reid’s enthusiasm for her story rubs off on the reader.


Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain (2020) – ‘Indelicacy’ is a powerful novella about creativity. Can a woman who cleans toilets and mops floors for a living have strong ambitions to be a writer? ‘Indelicacy’ answers that question with a resounding “Yes”. ‘Indelicacy’ is a novel about the struggle to create. One gets the impression that Amina Cain carefully chose each precise word in this unusual novella ‘Indelicacy’. It is a work that captures you on a visceral level rather than an intellectual level, which is always a good thing.


‘Life A User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec (1978) – I just cannot leave this novel off my year’s best list even though at times I loathed, loathed it and at other times I loved, loved it.






Also this year I read two excellent works of non-fiction – ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson and ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan.





My favorite collection of poems in 2020 is ‘Failing Heaven’ by Charles Behlen.










‘Woe from Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov – “When I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins”


‘Woe from Wit’, a verse comedy by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – 152 pages Translated from the Russian by Betsy Hulick

From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.

Our main character Chatsky is a man of spirit, a fellow who is too smart and honest for his own good. He questions everything, even authority. He is quick with a stinging jest in this “world that eats an honest man alive”.

Chatsky tells off the rich businessman Famusov with whom he is staying for “kowtowing to the powers that be” and for being “keen to fawn upon the tsar”. Famusov does happen to have a daughter Sophia that Chatsky is deeply in love with, but Chatsky doesn’t let up on telling Famusov a thing or two:

Trample those beneath whom you despise,

Flatter those above you adulate –

an age of servile urges, in the guise

of zeal to serve the sovereign and the state.

Chatsky’s honest words anger Famusov, and Famusov calls Chatsky a subversive and “a dangerous man to know” and “a flaming liberal firebrand”. Famusov even goes so far as to question whether Chatsky is out of his mind.

The daughter Sophia is more interested in another guy Molchalin and now she only has disdain for her childhood friend Chatsky who says all these outrageous things. She tells Chatsky:

Tell me, have you ever, in a gracious mood,

or even by mistake, said something kind

about another person? Well?

If not now, then long ago in childhood?

The guy she has her eyes on, Molchalin, is just the opposite of Chatsky. Molchalin is “a fawning toady”, “a wretched spineless thing”, who is advancing rapidly up the ranks of the bureaucracy. Much to Chatsky’s disgust, Molchalin has just spent the night with Sophia.

No one happy minds the clock.”

This is the setup for the play, but be prepared for some dazzling twists.

Betsy Hulick’s brilliant translation of this exceptional play ‘Woe From Wit’ is up to date, very easy to follow and understand, and its rhymes only add to its charm. She brings the atmosphere and language of the play up to today, and the play’s theme and message will never go out of fashion.

A huge Thank You to Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings for bringing this mighty ‘Woe From Wit’ to my attention. This is a must-read, and I would love to see a stage version of the play.


Grade:    A+



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