Oliver Bullough

The Crayfish Conundrum

Captain of the Steppe

By

And Other Stories 224pp £12 order from our bookshop

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf

By

Pushkin Press 187pp £12 order from our bookshop

Men from the towns along the Volga sell crayfish in Moscow’s markets out of plastic barrels. While the crayfish wait to be bought, they crawl over each other, reaching up towards the light. Sometimes, one manages to hook a claw over the rim of a barrel and pull itself up. Before it can escape, however, the other crayfish start using its body as a ladder, clambering up in groups until its grip weakens and they all fall down again. It is a depressing sight.

I remembered that scene several times while reading Oleg Pavlov’s Captain of the Steppe, a book that would be more comic if it wasn’t so dark. It focuses on Ivan Khabarov, the titular captain, who commands a remote military post in the wilds of Kazakhstan. He never has enough food for his men, so he experiments by planting potatoes. Shocked by his initiative, and its success, the troops he commands and the officers who command him then conspire to drag him back into the barrel, where he can be as hungry and miserable as they are.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,