Chekhov's Sister

W. D. Wetherell, Author
W. D. Wetherell, Author Little Brown and Company $18.95 (343p) ISBN 978-0-316-93162-5
Reviewed on: 03/01/1990
Release date: 03/01/1990
The premise of this morality tale, set at the Chekhov Museum in 1941 Yalta, is a strong one--that great art can never be successfully manipulated for political purposes. Unfortunately Wetherell's ( The Man Who Loved Levittown ) homage to Russia's most distinguished playwright--which incorporates allusions, imitations of Chekhov's style and the occasional adoption of dramatic form--is marred by theatrical excesses. When Peter Sergeich Kunin, an idealistic medical student, is enlisted by his patroness, Chekhov's sister Maria Pavlovna, to help prevent the Museum from being turned into a Nazi barracks, he is at first repulsed by Pavlovna's attempts to ingratiate herself with the new German minister of culture, Reneok Diskau. A drug addict and sociopath, Diskau greatly admires Chekhov and decides to stage The Seagull as a showcase for his administration. Diskau not only casts himself in the lead role, but, certain that he can improve on the master's lines, shamelessly rewrites the play. Pavlovna, although willing to go to great lengths to see the Chekhov Museum preserved, resists Diskau's attempts to adulterate her brother's masterpiece, earning Kunin's sympathy. By the end of the novel, the forces of history render the Nazi invasion a shambles: Diskau's production is enthusiastically received by the few Russians who dare to attend but boycotted by the Nazi officers it was meant to impress. (Mar.)
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