Franz Kafka has written this short story in a perspective of a dog. It was very difficult to read given the long sentences and, lack of cohesion, and a lot of unfamiliar English words. I’ve been reading reviews about readers giving up in the middle, but I chose to keep going. Let me say, it gets better. Well, kinda.
The dog has a very intuitive and independent character, given that he parted ways with his mother early in his life and started wandering around on his own. He often emphasize his solitariness and how it contributed to the way he thinks. He was not happy about it since he could have learned more in life if he stayed with his mother longer, but at the same time he was proud of it since it allowed him to become ‘street smart’ and question things about the world.
The first part about the musicians was something I was finding hard to grasp at first. The dog was confused about what the performers do and why they do it, only to find no answers from anyone. I believe it means that there are things in this world that could have been explained to some, but we just chose not to devote energy in explaining it, or we chose not to care to question them at all.
The dog was also asking where and how food was produced on earth, and how come some get more and some get less. I could relate this a lot to political realism, where self-interest and survival are the central elements, and human nature (in this case, canine nature) is the driving force to all the actions of dogs in this world.
Later in the story, he started questioning the existence of air-dogs, and what’s the point of their existence. He also questioned how his generation is better and worse than the previous ones. He was also big on being conscious of the ‘scientificness’ of his arguments and claims, as well as the practical value of his ‘experiments’. Towards the end of the story, he tried experimenting on fasting.
If I’m being honest, there are parts of the story I can’t quite understand, but if you try to keep going and finish the whole book, the overall message actually makes sense. Most importantly, this book has introduced me to new English words that contributed in enriching my vocabulary.
I can’t believe I just read a work from 1895! It feels like it was just written yesterday or something.
Reading Chekhov’s short story ‘A Nervous Breakdown’ has got me reading more of his short stories (and later, novels). Chekhov has brilliantly captured the situation of a typical woman from the countryside who decides to marry an influential man, leaving behind her family who can barely survive on a daily basis.
How Chekhov ended the story was so amazing and empowering. As a feminist like me, I like how he gave justice to Ana’s character and how she was able to turn things around without sacrificing her relationships with her husband, her family, and the other members of the community, including the other influential ones. It goes to show that we might be born in specific kinds of circumstances, but we can always decide on whoever we want to be.
As a Professor like Kovrin who have definitely experienced mental struggles throughout this complex academic career, I could relate to him in so many ways. Honestly, I can’t seem to believe that something written back in 1894 will still be 100% relatable this 2022.
Chekhov always kills it with the right words in describing how different mental struggles are experienced by specific individuals in specific situations. The short story ‘A Nervous Breakdown’ has got me so hooked to read more of Chekhov’s works, and ‘The Black Monk’ has definitely exceeded my expectations.
The sleeplessness, the constant need to think, and the inevitable fear of being mediocre and ordinary are some of the very common things that happen in a Professor’s life. Kovrin definitely needed some help, and Chekhov’s emphasis on seeking professional help in his mental health-themed stories has been the part I always applaud with. Chekhov recognizes the limits of self-help and coping mechanisms, hence people needed to seek the help of others to be better.
I first encountered Chekhov when Katherine Mansfield made reference to him in her short story Bliss. Aware of the fact that Anton Chekhov is one of the most celebrated authors in Russian Literature, I purchased a copy of the book A Nervous Breakdown I found from an online marketplace. The previous owner of the book included a sticky note with a message “I hope it can also give you the comfort I had reading this book”. It made me even more intrigued.
Guessing from the title, it obviously has something to do with one’s mental health. A nervous breakdown, or panic, is something that all of us have experienced at least once in our lives, hence we could somehow relate to Vasilyev.
But to my surprise, I did not only got to read a perfect, fictional description of what a nervous breakdown feels like and how it was handled by Vasilyev, but I also got a picture of the 1800s Russian society, the state of prostitution, and debates about morality in this short story. There are a lot of subjects of discussion that can be extracted from this short story (including the Russian winter and their vodka culture, even themes of burnout and one’s moral obligations on humanity), which makes this more than impressive.
Now I’m looking forward to reading more of Chekhov’s works and more of Russian classic literature.