The Suitcase

the suitcase dovlatovBy Sergei Dovlatov; Counterpoint Press; @ 1986; 129 pages.

The premise of The Suitcase is simple. Sergei Dovlatov finds the suitcase that he carried from the Soviet Union to the United States in the back of his closet in New York. Each chapter of the book tells the story behind each item he rediscovers inside.

I really like this structure. I’m trying to figure out how to “repurpose” it for my own needs. And, I really like Dovlatov. I’ll be reading along, interested enough to keep going, and then all of a sudden I’m laughing. It’s nice. It reminds me of Russia and the friends I met there, and makes me sorry I left and glad that I did at the same time.

I like how Dovlatov describes his relationship with his wife, Lena. He says the main things a wife should do for her husband are 1) feed him, 2) believe he is a genius, and 3) leave him alone. And she can’t just do one of these. She has to do all three. So I’m ticking off these things in my head. Am I doing my part? It was touching—for all his tough-guy rhetoric, you can tell he really loved his wife. The kind of love that is too real and painful to talk about.

Dovlatov died relatively young (Not suicide—but what was it? I don’t know.), and it makes me really sad. But he left behind several books that I haven’t read.

The New York Times said this about The Suitcase: “Readers will soar through the first two-thirds of this novel, then…stave off finishing it. The final chapters will be hoarded and cherished, doled out one at a time as a reward after a bad day.”

That’s exactly how I felt. I have a bad day, I reach for Dovlatov. That’s why I need to have enough on hand. Fed up with life? Lost your sense of humor? Take two Dovlatov’s and call me in the morning.

5 thoughts on “The Suitcase”

  1. I ration myself…two Russian novels a year. I think this sounds like a good candidate for this year. Been trying to get someone to bring me a collection of Nabokov…the one with “Invitation to a Beheading” in it. Another request, it sounds like. Thanks for the suggestion.


    1. I’m not sure that anything by Dovlatov qualifies as a “Russian novel.” Maybe he would be more accurately termed as Soviet/American.

      All of his works are very short, and he definitely writes from a different (more modern) perspective. From his writing, it appears that he has read all the greats.

      I really like this very interesting author, but mainly for his personality and perspective.


      1. Good enough for me. Seems like a lot of worthy Russian writers did their best work outside of the Mother Land. Mobility often seems to add the different perspective you speak of Wussian novel Wabbit.


  2. I agree this is a great structure. Very intriguing. The trick is getting an item with some history & intrigue. The suitcase is elevated in our minds because he carried it from Russia. We wonder, did he defect? Were there some secret KGB papers inside? What is the deal?


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