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Swimming through Russian classics with George Saunders

  • Published at 12:18 pm February 11th, 2021
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

New release

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a new collection of essays by Booker-winning novelist and short story writer George Saunders. One could not have come up with a better title as Saunders does dive into seven classic short stories by four Russian masters and swims around them, more often than not dipping deeper under the surface to reveal how the fictional form works and what they can tell us about ourselves—and our world today.

George Saunders has been teaching creative writing at Syracuse University in the USA for almost 20 years now. Quite a few of his lectures were  focused on 19th century short stories in translation. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares versions of those lectures with the readers, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. 

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, the book is divided into chapters discussing seven iconic short stories—three by Anton Chekhov (“In the Cart”,” The Darling” and “Gooseberries”), two by Leo Tolstoy (“Master and Man”, “Alyosha the Pot”), and one each by Ivan Turgenev (“The Singers”) and Nikolai Gogol (“The Nose”). What makes the book stand out is that all the stories are included in full, along with Saunders’ illuminating commentaries. The seven essays are intended for anyone interested in knowing what makes great fictions work and why it is more relevant than ever in these turbulent times. 

Saunders swims through each story and tries to understand why it develops and takes the turns that it does. Written intentionally in non-academic vein, he approaches them technically yet accessibly, and thus explains how fictional narrative functions and why we stay immersed in a story, or why we resist it. Most importantly, as Tessa Hadley points out a review for The Guardian, he discusses at some length the core virtues a writer must nurture because the process of writing, according to Saunders, is as much a craft as it is a quality of openness and willingness to see the world through new eyes. 

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connections possible and change a person’s life. It is a great read for budding and seasoned writers alike.