ROSAMUND BARTLETT DESCRIBES this volume as 'a biography of Chekhov ... but also a biography of the places in which he lived and worked, and an exploration of how they relate to his short stories and plays'. Each chapter focuses on somewhere important in Chekhov's life, and on the people who lived and worked there: the Greeks and Italians who formed much of the population of Taganrog, the once important southern port where he was born; the Cossacks of the surrounding steppe; the town's merchant class, to which his father belonged until his bankruptcy; the clergy; the peasants; the medical, literary and theatrical worlds; the Crimean Tatars around Yalta, where he spent his last years. This focus on Chekhov's background helps us to gain a clearer sense of the surprising scope of his life and work. We begin to understand how an invalid often seen as a delicate miniaturist can have elicited such tributes as the following, from Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate:
Probably only Balzac has ever brought such a mass of different people into the consciousness of society. No - not even Balzac. Just think! Doctors, engineers, lawyers ... [Grossman lists thirty-three further professions or groups of people, before ending] ... nuns, solders, midwives, prisoners on the Sakhalin Islands. . .