The Story Of A Nobody, By Anton Chekhov

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The Independent Culture

After a century, the finest fiction about terrorism and its motives still comes from Russians who wrote under the Tsars (and from that child of exile, Joseph Conrad).

Published in 1893, and revived in this sure-footed translation by Hugh Aplin, Chekhov's novella deserves to be much better known. Longing "to make history", the titular loser joins the household of Orlov, son of a minister judged a "serious enemy" to the radical cause.

Via harm to the family, the nobody hopes to become somebody. But then all the tugs and tangles of humanity intrude. Sympathy with the clan distracts him and the "hatred" behind his mission wanes in the face of the old man's frailty: "It is hard to strike a match against crumbling stone".