Syedyshev Oleg
Syedyshev Oleg

Humorous Essays Based on students' memories

"All have died
except for those who are alive, and those whom we remember"Confucius

Review of a book by O.P.Syedyshev “The Guys”

“Humorous essays” about no laughing matters
(Review of a book by O.P.Syedyshev “The Guys”)

In a collection of memoirs about his great contemporaries A.M.Gorky (Aleksey Maximovich Gorky, 1868 –1936, was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the Socialist Realism literary method and a political activist) wrote: “Russian literature is the most pessimistic literature in Europe; all of our books are written on one and the same topic of the way we suffer, - in our youth and at a mature age {…}”. Aleksey Maksimovitch would have changed his opinion, if he could familiarize himself with a book by Oleg Petrovitch Syedyshev, published in 2012 in a city of Mariupol, Donetsk region. Life of characters of the book is not serene, it is not rich (financially), but the author tells in it not about how he suffered, but how he enjoyed life.

A smiling face is looking at us from the cover. The first thing we read is: “Humorous Essays based on reminiscences about student life”. Under the photo there is the title of “The Guys”; it is a popular colloquial word, which means “fools” and “idlers”. There right away appear three reasons to smile: the 1st – to respond to the author’s smile, the 2nd – to the word “Humorous”, the 3d – to “the guys”. I kept the serene smile till the end of the reading. Not all readers react the way I did. For example, Tatiana Romashova, Syedyshev’s fellow student’s daughter writes about her family’s reaction: “We were laughing and crying {…}”. And Sveta Titova was “laughing loudly and whole-heartedly, it’s been a long while since I had that much fun…”. My reaction turned to be more restrained. However I was smiling until I finished reading of all the 295 pages.

Humor is the main key word. It runs through the entire narration from the title to the very last page: “That was the end of the day, which was full of events and adventures. And a photo with an inscription: “A criminal case, which the guys escaped”. With merciless truthfulness the author revealed himself and his friends, but his sense of humor colored his reminiscences. I want to believe that by depicting bad and vicious public phenomena as funny, people get rid of them.

The book is written in purely Russian spoken language. I insist on the word “purely”, as there are no barbarisms or bookish words (even participial constructions or adverbial participle constructions with their annoying suffixes -vshi-, -shi-), there is actually no slang and abusive language there. These days teenagers quite often talk in such a way that one is ashamed and scared to go by them. How much they abused themselves! The author has demonstrated that the standard of knowledge, culture and moral of young people of his youth was higher, than the one of modern young people.

The guys are students of Kemerovo state medical institute of 1966 – 1972. However are they really idlers and fools? The main work of students is their studies. The author to be read through all the additional literature suggested by his professors, he graduated with honors. And the way they studied for their examinations! They used to forget to eat and sleep! Studies meant for them absolute concentration, devotion, ultimate strain of all their physical and moral power. For their anatomy exam they remembered “thousands and even tens of thousands names of bones, bonelets or prominences on the bonelets”. They crammed for their pharmacology exam for days and nights, but still were nervous to the point when two of the group overdosed stimulants of nervous system and were non stop repeating names of medicines and their doses. A surgical training professor gives only two grades: an “excellent” and “unsatisfactory”. And the graduates agree with him: to know this subject for a "satisfactory" grade is a crime.

The author fearlessly reveals how the students try to cheat during exams: they make and agreement with an assistant to place examination papers in certain order they know. However that was done more for their peace of mind, as they know all material.

Nightmare-like nights of studying fade from their memories, but knowledge remains. Their hard work is repaid: they become top professionals. Under one of photos we read: Lyubov Natcheva (Reshetnikova), doctor of biological sciences, professor, Head of the biology department of Kemerovo state medical academy, academician of Petrovskaya academy of sciences and art, academician of Russia’s Academy of Natural Science, “Honored worker of higher educational institutions of RF”. Under another one: Agadzhanyan Vagram Vaganovitch – doctor of medicine, professor, fellow of Russia’s Academy of Natural Science, honored doctor of RF, member of American academy of surgeons-orthopaedists. And so on.

Manual labor is also not alien to the students: they cleaned trolleys and detrained freight cars, and worked as hospital attendants. It is not without reason that from the word “labor” there was derived an adjective “laborious”. Quite often the students work on the edge and try even above the limits of their physical abilities. Remember, when they were detraining Cuban sugar, and Oleg Syedyshev was turning over the sacks, he felt like carrying a sack by himself. The lightest one was 80kg, the bigger ones were 120kg. Oleg weighed 50kg back then. Even though his steps were shaky on the ground, he kept making attempts to carry the load. The guys were aware of how hard it was for a simple man to earn his living.

From my point of view, the book describes the most important gain of the student years: friendship, solidarity, remembering of those who are gone forever, which makes them as if alive, mutual assistance, mutual readiness to help, and cooperation, and ability to forgive practical jokes and mischief.

However, the latter, as the courageous author writes, “was the case” perplexes. How could Mikhail put into his friend’s album prepared to be presented to a professor a piece of paper with a swear word? What for did they unnoticeably put spoons of salt into Dimka’s soup? Why did they have to bring sleeping Zhora together with his bed into a lady’s toilet? What for did they hide a heavy weight in a bed of a heavyset student? I am trying to understand this.

Similar phenomena were observed even among offsprings of the nobility, even in Tsarskoselskiy Lyceum, when Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin studied there (The Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg was founded by the Emperor Alexander I in order to give education to youths of the nobility, who should afterwards occupy important positions in the Imperial service.). I am re-reading Y.Tynyanov’s novel “Kyukhlya” (Yury Nikolaevich Tynyanov, 1894 –1943, was a famous Soviet/Russian writer, literary critic, translator, scholar and screenwriter. He was an authority on Pushkin and an important member of the Russian Formalist school.). I will allow myself excursus into the book. Maybe the past will help to understand the present. The author described how Wilhelm Kuchelbecker was tormented, he tried to drown himself, and Pushkin was calming him down, and the lyceum students admitted that all of them loved him. There was mockery, harassment and later friendship and devotion to death. In the novel there is an episode related to the period, when they were finishing the Lyceum. Vilya was listening to a new Pushkin’s epigram:

I had too much to eat for supper
But Yakov had negligently left the door locked
My dear friends I felt sick
and like kuchelbecker-ing up.

Wilhelm immediately challenged his friend to a duel. First he was aiming right at Pushkin’s forehead, “but then saw his alive eyes” and shot to the left side. And Pushkin threw his pistol in the snow. “Shoot!” – Kuchelbecker was shouting. - Vilya, - Alexander firmly told him, - I will not shoot at you. “Kuchelbecker-ing up” – is really very funny!” Luckily his friend realized the inadequacy of his reaction.

I made all these quotes in order for us to individually consider every similar case, though there is something in common between them. Perhaps, this is the human nature: for the young their need for fun overpowers sympathy for a person they are making fun of. How can this be set right? I believe this can be helped, as there are cures from illnesses, even the most serious ones. Let Sedyshev’s book serve as a pill or even better an immunization against harassment of inferiors, depression, propensity for suicide and other ailment of these days. Oleg Petrovitch fearlessly exposed evils of his epoch. Let the stupid get wiser! Let the wise learn on somebody else’s mistakes!

Amusing pictures of students’ everyday life are a true to life and bright description of any sphere of social life. Similar to many-colored pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope, they make a social fabric, which offers a thorough understanding of life of the society. The author does not make any conclusions, does not reason, he believes that his readers will understand everything by themselves.

For example, the educational system at higher educational institutions that was till 1990. The institute was supplied with the teaching staff, preparations, text books, etc.; students had for their convenience dormitories, sports complexes, equipment; amount of student stipend did not meet all the needs of young people, though it made it possible to receive higher education to everybody who whished to. The main thing was the professors’ attitude to their job and students, and from the students’ side – their attitude to their study and professors. For the most part they found mutual understanding.

The author draws the most vivid portraits and characters with signs plus and minus. What a great skill of details he has! Even strings at an excessively long and wonderfully white doctor’s smock of T.F.Ryzhov, nicknamed as Faradey suggest fear. He covers his student from any offender and at the same time protects his science against ignoramuses and idlers.

However not all professors are understood by the students from the very beginning. For instance, K.T.Somova (the one who demands by the outline of a tooth by touch tell from what jaw and what side the tooth is) was honored with a bow from her former students for her exactingness only after they started working with patients in real life.

The author does not conceal that there are some “profs”, at whose lectures letters to friends are being written, and stockings are being mended. By the author’s intonation it is clear that he praises his friends for not wasting their time. Those lecturers are not worthy of any attention.

Portraits of students are also colorful. At the beginning of their first year at the institute they have just left their parent’s homes and were able to do not many things by themselves. Syedyshev boiled chicken with head and legs and in feather and even wrapped in paper. Gradually they learn everything. In essay #98 there is an ode to pilau. The cook, the author of the book, knows every tiny detail of the process: how to choose ingredients and in what order put them in a cauldron, and how to stir. The cooking process conceals unlimited love to people he is making the pilau for. They are his absolutely loved family: his wife Natasha – Natalek., “his home front deputy”, and his daughter Katyusha – Cathy, who is about to graduate from a medical institute.

However it is not only his family who is awarded with a ceremony of cooking. Kemerovo students make a real show of cooking pilau at the Issyk Kul lake. The vacationers of the holiday hotel applaud to the cooks. No, they are not just applaud, but “award them with ovation” and then enthusiastically enjoy the food. Now the students teach the people around to enjoy life, create joy not only for themselves, but to other people as well.

In another case they fail to reach their place by the beginning of the New Year. They are hungry and cold on a tram. So what? Do they complain about their life? Nothing like that. They uncork a bottle pour its contents in a jar and offer to everybody who happened to be on the tram, they laugh and sing all together. What can be better than that?

The author is merciless to his own and their sins. He is writing that now his hair stands on end, when he remembers about that. They are stealing chickens from a barn and potatoes from cellars, and chocolate from a confectionery producing factory during their excursion there, and bags with food hanging outside of windows. Can this be combined with everything said before? It turns out that it is compatible. Why did this “take place”? Oleg Petrovitch writes that they did not think about possible consequences of what they were doing.

In addition to that an essay #99 “Always hungry” provides more insight into that. As it is known, one should not be careless with those who are hungry. If once they successfully ate somebody else’s food, then they feel like doing the same again and again. In those days many people treated socialist property like their own. The words: “Everything around is Soviet, everything around is mine!” were almost a universal slogan.

Now the former students from Kemerovo are absolutely different people. In essay #93 the author writes with what pleasure he presented one hundred thousand disposable syringes to a children’s department of Mangush hospital, which is near Mariupol. “People, be happy!” is the name of the essay.

What prescription has doctor Syedyshev given in his book? Row the boat you are floating in. Do not rely on will of the flow. Create your own destiny by yourself, if you want it to be successful. Somebody would say: “What a banality! What a case of primitivism!” And were they not the same things that were said in the second part of Goethe’s Faust? Hope there is no little man found to say that I place the author of the essays next to genius Goethe. I only want to underline the main idea of “The Guys”: labor is both salvation and happiness for the human race and every individual Homo.

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