Skip to main content

Fazil' Iskander, "Forbidden Fruit"

Information and Questions for Reading

Fazil' Abdulovich Iskander was born in 1929 in Sukhumi (a beloved tourist destination on the Black Sea); he is surely the best-known author from Abkhazia, though he moved to Moscow in 1948 as a student (and has lived in Moscow mostly since - he writes in Russian, though he writes about things set in Abkhazia). You'll note the "Russification of Iskander's name (his father's name, Abdul, is turned into a patronymic, Russian style); his last name, Iskander, is a cognate of "Alexander." He graduated from the Literary Institute in Moscow in 1954. He first made a splash in the 1960s - which as you'll recall was the period of greater cultural freedom now referred to as "The Thaw." He started publishing short stories in 1962; his first notable publication, translated into English as "The Goatibex Constellation" (Созвездие козлотуры), appeared in 1966 in the famously liberal journal New World (Новый мир), and - sign of the changing times? - was panned by some official critics for its satire of Lysenkoism, though readers liked it. "Forbidden Fruit" was also published in 1966, as the title story of his first collection of stories. (Notice that our translation has a little intro about the author, and a photo, at the end.)

Iskander is a satirist, and I'll cite Lesley Milne's point that "as humorist and satirist he operated on the bordeline between the permissible and the prohibited, constantly and deliberately overstepping the mark" - his position in Soviet literature was that of both an "official" and an "unofficial" writer, with some work published in the USSR and other works published abroad, as so-called "tamizdat."

1. How does satire differ from mere humor? Where is this story gentle, and where does it have more bite? Where and why does it stop being funny?

2. The reader can tell from the names of the neighbors in the story ("Auntie Sonya" and "Uncle Shura") that they are Russians, and not Muslims. (They aren't relations: the titles "Auntie" and "Uncle" are simply what children would call their neighbors - left over from village culture in which many of the grown-ups probably were aunts and uncles, if several times removed.) Somya is a nickname for Sofia; Shura is a nickname for Alexander (Александр).

3. Could we see a weird echo of Zhilin (from Tolstoy's "Prisoner in the Caucasus") in Uncle Shura's handiness as an appliance repairman?

4. Recalling that our narrator's father came home in a bad mood, why do you think he reacts so negatively when his son tells on his sister for eating pork?