Vlas Doroshevich What The Emperor Cannot Do, Tales and Legends of the Orient


These tales could be written by and for modern, rebellious “anti-establishment” youth of today. The anti-establishment feeling is probably universal, timeless, and starts with Adam and Eve. Whatever their subject, Doroshevich’s tales are unexpected, exciting, colorful, and tremendously readable. They are a mixture of fantasy, irony, and often despair, caused by the fact that between men in power living in the complete isolation of an “ivory tower” and the ordinary people there exists a corrupt bureaucracy – an “establishment.” Any effort by a man in power – an “Emperor of China” or a “Caliph” – is always thwarted by his own “establishment” created to execute his orders. The “Emperor” or “Caliph” are kept so far from reality by their own underlings that the most obvious solution of a problem often escapes them. Any chance for a better solution devised by the ruler himself or his corrupt “establishment” results in greater suffering of the very people the change was supposed to help.

Doroshevich was born in Ryazan province into a wealthy upper class family, but his mother Alexandra Sokolova was disinherited by her family for marrying Vlas's father, an unsuccessful writer who died shortly before Vlas was born. When Vlas was six months old his mother who had two other children and was struggling financially, abandoned him and he was adopted by a childless couple by the name of Doroshevich.

At the age of sixteen Vlas withdrew from school and left home. After a short spell as a laborer he found work as a proof-reader and actor. During the 1880s he became a skillful journalist and critic, writing for the popular papers, which also employed the young Anton Chekhov. In 1893 he moved to Odessa to work as a reporter for the Odessa Flyer, a local paper with a large circulation. In 1897 he traveled to Sakhalin as part of a larger international assignment. He recorded his experiences and impressions in his book Sakhalin (published in English translation by the Anthem Press as Russia's Penal Colony in the Far East.) From 1902 to 1918 he was made the editor of the major paper Russian Word raising its circulation to one million. His travels in the East produced a book called Legends and Fairy Tales of the Orient. His best known work The Way of the Cross (1915) is an account of the refugees from the German invasion of Russia during World War 1, in August and September of 1915.

Even though he was rich, Doroshevich welcomed the Russian Socialist Revolution of 1917. The censorship of the Soviets turned out to be no less strict than the censorship of the Tsar. Fairy tales, however, did permit him to talk openly about the many wrongs that could not be discussed in a newspaper article under either regime. Doroshevich could not stand tyranny in any form and in his fairy tales, he availed himself of complete freedom to mock, to despise, and to accuse the strong and the rich for their wickedness, hypocrisy, and stupidity.

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