Thursday, February 28, 2008

TBR Challenge: The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, by P.D. Ouspensky

The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, by P.D. Ouspensky. Originally published: 1915. Published 1988 by Penguin.

The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky is a thin little novel I picked up in a used bookstore a long time ago, because I like Russian literature and it just looked interesting to me. I'd never heard of the author- no surprise, since The Strange Life was his only novel- but it looked intriguing, so I took it home.

And then it sat on my bookshelf for a long time. Since it is so small I always figured if I wanted to, I could read it quickly. And indeed it turned out to be a quick, satisfying and fascinating little book.

Ivan Osokin's life is made up of a series of disappointments- mostly of a man disappointed with himself as he manages to throw his opportunities away one by one. He comes to a crossroads after losing his lover and asks a magician to send him back in time so he can live his life again and correct all the mistakes he made that lead up to this final, colossal mistake, letting the woman he loves leave him and marry someone else. But will it make any difference? Will he change? Does he have the will to avoid the pitfalls he knows are coming? Or will he do everything the same way?

Overall the novel is characterized by a sense of despair and inevitability; Ivan is a sweet but feckless man who tries to get out of his own way and just can't seem to do it. In that way he's a lot like many people. He means well, and he tries hard, and sometimes that's enough, but most of the time it's not and he's always stuck with himself at the end of the day. I felt Ivan's frustration and his ennui and thought that Ouspensky did a good job of creating a likable character with whom it's easy to identify. Ouspensky was a philosopher and I think he wrote the book intending to espouse a particular theory about human behavior but the book never felt heavy or weighed down by an agenda. It's a bittersweet story that would appeal to Russian literature buffs or anyone who might like a book that is both brief and challenging.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

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