Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is one of the books which was inherited by us many moons ago and I added it to my 2011 Reading List to make sure that I got around to reading it this year, at last.

It’s a series of letters between a tchinovnik (a minor civil servant) called Makar Dievushkin and a distant relative of his, Barbara Dobroselova. Despite the fact that they both live in rooms in tenements which are just across the road from each other and they can actually see each other’s windows, they rarely meet for fear that people will talk about them.

As the story progresses the letters become more and more loving and really I could have rattled the two of them and clunked their heads together. For some reason Makar feels that he is responsible for Barbara and he spends money on her which he doesn’t have. Civil servants seem to have received their salary quarterly or even bi-annually and Makar’s money has run out so he ends up in debt. Poor Makar turns to drink which of course just makes things worse.

He still buys shawls, dresses and sweets for Barbara at a time when his shoes are so worn through that he is almost walking on the pavement. Barbara puts up a small half-hearted protest about him spending money on her but she wants the finer things in life and it seems that she is waiting for a man with money to come along and solve her problems.

Makar is a bit of a ‘Mr Bean’ type of character so there is quite a bit of humour in the book but it is all a bit sad and depressing. (Well it is Russian.) A man whom Barbara despises proposes to her and she accepts as she believes she has no other choice and she is enticed by the thought of the clothes and the status which Bwikow says she will have as his wife. It’s obviously going to be disastrous for Barbara as Bwikow has already taken control of her movements before they even get married.

It’s worth reading even although it has a couple of characters that you feel like screaming at!

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