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About the book
  • Published: 15 August 2015
  • ISBN: 9781590178362
  • Imprint: NY Review Books
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 168
  • RRP: $24.99

The Prank


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The Prank is a major international literary discovery: the young Anton Chekhov’s own selection of the best of his early work, here appearing for the first time in any language as the single volume its author intended it to be, and featuring two stories that have not been translated into English before.

In 1880, while pursuing his medical studies, Chekhov took up his pen the better to support himself and his family. In the next two years, he published more than sixty stories under various pseudonyms, soon gaining a reputation as a brilliant young writer. In 1882, he decided it was time to establish his name and claim to fame properly, and so he picked and carefully put together the twelve stories he considered his best work, intending to publish them with illustrations by his brother Nikolay, a gifted artist himself. The Prank, as Chekhov entitled the book, was all set to go to the printer when a Tsarist censor suppressed the book. Why? Because, as Chekhov wrote to a friend, “my best stories uproot the foundations.”

Satires, send-ups, tales of student life, artistic ambition, hunting parties, troubled families, love and betrayal, these twelve stories, accompanied by Nikolay’s illustrations, display the zest, energy, humor, and unsparing insight that were Chekhov’s from the start.

  • Pub date: 15 August 2015
  • ISBN: 9781590178362
  • Imprint: NY Review Books
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 168
  • RRP: $24.99

About the Author

Anton Chekhov

Born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia, on the Sea of Azov, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov would eventually become one of Russia's most cherished storytellers. Especially fond of vaudevilles and French farces, he produced some hilarious one-acts, but it is his full-length tragedies that have secured him a place among the greatest dramatists of all time.

Chekhov began writing short stories during his days as a medical student at the University of Moscow. After graduating in 1884 with a degree in medicine, he began to freelance as a journalist and writer of comic sketches. Early in his career, he mastered the form of the one-act and produced several masterpieces of this genre including The Bear (1888) in which a creditor hounds a young widow, but becomes so impressed when she agrees to fight a duel with him, that he proposes marriage, and The Wedding (1889) in which a bridegroom's plans to have a general attend his wedding ceremony backfire when the general turns out to be a retired naval captain 'of the second rank'.

Ivanov (1887), Chekhov's first full-length play, a fairly immature work compared to his later plays, examines the suicide of a young man very similar to Chekhov himself in many ways. His next play, The Wood Demon (1888) was also fairly unsuccessful. In fact, it was not until the Moscow Art Theater production of The Seagull (1897) that Chekhov enjoyed his first overwhelming success. The same play had been performed two years earlier at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and had been so badly received that Chekhov had actually left the auditorium during the second act and vowed never to write for the theatre again. But in the hands of the Moscow Art Theatre, the play was transformed into a critical success, and Chekhov soon realized that the earlier production had failed because the actors had not understood their roles.

In 1899, Chekhov gave the Moscow Art Theatre a revised version of The Wood Demon, now titled Uncle Vanya (1899). Along with The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904), this play would go on to become one of the masterpieces of the modern theatre. However, although the Moscow Art Theatre productions brought Chekhov great fame, he was never quite happy with the style that director Constantin Stanislavsky imposed on the plays. While Chekhov insisted that his plays were comedies, Stanislavsky's productions tended to emphasize their tragic elements. Still, in spite of their stylistic disagreements, it was not an unhappy marriage, and these productions brought widespread acclaim to both Chekhov's work and the Moscow Art Theatre itself.

During Chekhov's final years, he was forced to live in exile from the intellectuals of Moscow. In March of 1897, he had suffered a lung hemorrhaage, and although he still made occasional trips to Moscow to participate in the productions of his plays, he was forced to spend most of his time in the Crimea where he had gone for his health. He died of tuberculosis on July 14, 1904, at the age of forty-four, in a German health resort and was buried in Moscow. Since his death, Chekhov's plays have become famous worldwide and he has come to be considered the greatest Russian storyteller and dramatist of modern times.

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Praise for The Prank

““Chekhov’s stories are as wonderful (and necessary) now as when they first appeared...It is not only the immense number of stories he wrote—for few, if any, writers have ever done more—it is the awesome frequency with which he produced masterpieces, stories that shrive us as well as delight and move us, that lay bare our emotions in ways only true art can accomplish.” —Raymond Carver   “As readers of imaginative literature, we are always seeking clues, warnings...Where in life to search more assiduously; what not to overlook; what’s the origin of this sort of human calamity, that sort of joy and pleasure: how can we live nearer to the latter, further off from the former? And to such seekers as we are, Chekhov is a guide, perhaps the guide.” —Richard Ford   “[Chekhov’s characters] are not lit by the hard light of common day but suffused in a mysterious grayness. They move in this as though they were disembodied spirits. It is their souls that you seem to see...You have the feeling of a vast, gray, lost throng wandering aimless in some dim underworld.” —Somerset Maugham   “We have to cast about in order to discover where the emphasis in these strange stories rightly comes...The soul is ill; the soul is cured; the soul is not cured.” —Virginia Woolf   “Read Chekhov, read the stories straight through.” —Francine Prose   “Reading his stories keeps us honest, and humble, but somehow also lighthearted.” —Sonya Chung   “What writers influenced me as a young man? Chekhov! As a dramatist? Chekhov! As a story writer? Chekhov!” —Tennessee Williams   “Reading Chekhov was just like the angels singing to me.” —Eudora Welty”


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