On the Golden Porch
I enjoy short stories the best when characters speak with each other, that is when the narration involves exchanging conversations. It feels livelier and engrossing than to plainly describe who said what. Yet, while reading Tatyana Tolstaya’s White Walls: Collected Stories, I realized only towards the end of the book that there’s only a handful of conversation- exchanges. The gripping 24 short stories, revolving mainly around children, memories, domesticity, disillusionment, ageing and love, are staunchly set in the Soviet reality. Of them, I’m sharing my reading experience of one of my favourites!
Tatyana Tolstaya’s “On the Golden Porch”
Dreamy description of an enchanted garden kickstarts the young girl’s reminiscences of her childhood that’s golden in the sun, pale green in the shade and without borders and fences. She lives in a small town of Petrograd growing up admiring a private dacha (a country house in Russia) in her neighbourhood with her friends. The memories are concrete in her, remembering every nook and corner of the dacha especially the garden. She’s so nostalgic of the garden that she could simply close her eyes and sketch its vines, seasonal flowerings, yields and any nuance at her fingertips.
Most of the story spins around the girl’s memories of the dacha’s owner Uncle Pasha and his greedy wife Veronika. So many bitter incidents about Veronika flows through her mind throughout, like the one unforgettable feud with the girl’s mother who broke an iron-clad condition: the egg had to be boiled and eaten immediately. As a result of which Veronika stopped selling them strawberries and milk.
Although the girl and her friends adored and craved to visit the dacha, they didn’t have the stomach to visit until Veronika passes away and Margarita (her sister) steps in to live with Uncle Pasha. The girls’ visit to the dacha is a striking schoolgirls’ chitchat expressly when they argue over where Margarita sleeps as there’s only one bed in Aladdin’s Cave (Pasha’s room) and unanimously agree upon the pair as lovers and sleeping in the same bed, head to foot.
What seemed to be so dreamy, inspiring and enchanting in the past seems different for the girl now. The once ecstatic artefacts in uncle Pasha’s dacha now struck to her as cheap secondhand rubbish and clumsy fakes from the peasant market. Tatyana gives us more than a brief throwback into the girl’s childhood— disillusionment at its best!
Although a distant relative to Leo Alexievich Tolstoy, she is known to have acquired the writing style of Chekov. Tatyana’s debut novel Slynx saw immediate fame and many translations. The stories compiled in White Walls mostly appeared in her previous compilations, On the Golden Porch and Sleeper in a Fog, with some new stories.
I’ve always wanted to put my reading experience into writing—venting out. With the fecund digital and social space, I’ve decided now the right time to plunge into my ambitious desire of getting to know as many women writers across the world, through their works, regardless of their geographic and ethnic existence. Yet, I’m against the idea of branding my blog as feminist as I choose to read on them purely for the writers’ purport and their ardent works.
I’d like you to be a part of my reading journey and get to know along with me the women writers who’ve been silently transfiguring their areas of interest.