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Anton Chekhov: A Life Audiobook, by Donald Rayfield Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Donald Rayfield Narrator: Fred Williams Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2015 ISBN: 9781504629515
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Anton Chekhov’s life was short, intense, and dominated by battles, both with his dependents and with the tuberculosis that killed him at age forty-four. The traditional image of Chekhov is that of the restrained artist torn between medicine and literature, but Donald Rayfield’s biography reveals the life long hidden behind the noble facade. Here is a man capable of both great generosity toward needy peasants and harsh callousness toward lovers and family, a man who craved with equal passion the company of others and the solitude necessary to create his art. Based on information from Chekhov archives throughout Russia, Rayfield’s work has been hailed as a groundbreaking examination of the life of a literary master.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Rayfield has done Chekhov and his readers a great service. His efforts have uncovered a Chekhov—complex, troubling and ambiguous—who finally feels right as the man behind the art.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Unlike most of his predecessors, the British professor has captured the essence of the Russian genius, a character wholly unlike that myopic chap in the postcard rack…for an examination of the life that illuminates the art, this new biography has no rivals. Its scrupulous search for the truth has made it the gold standard by which all other Chekhov studies must be measured.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • A noted scholar of the art of Anton Chekhov now turns to his life (1860–1904), with equally revelatory results. Rayfield’s densely documented account avoids general statements in favor of quiet accumulation of detail that gradually creates a multifaceted impression of Chekhov’s contradictions…Rayfield does not attempt to tidy up a messily complex psyche or to downplay the faults that were as intrinsic to Chekhov’s genius as were his merits.” Review

  • “Gorky said of Chekhov that no one understood as clearly as he did ‘the tragedy of life’s trivialities.’ Rayfield certainly does. His biography of Chekhov is rife with tiny details that together create a pointillist portrait of Chekhov…Rayfield’s careful research into primary sources reveals numerous letters that have been ignored or tactfully bowdlerized. The result is a portrayal of a man rather randier, more put-upon and more human than previously betrayed…a crucial addition for Chekhov scholarship.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “At the conclusion, [listeners] will feel they have been somewhere totally raw, alive, and real…Fred Williams, who narrates with great Russian…deserves credit for stamina and for providing a sense of unity for listeners joining him in this demanding undertaking. The organization of previously underused secondary resources and archival material…enhances the sense of immediacy and ‘being there.’”

    Library Journal

  • “People were passionate about Chekhov when he was alive and remain so long after his death, but until now, no biographer has been able to fully grasp the complexity of his life. Rayfield’s access to a vast, previously untapped Chekhov archive yielded genuine revelations, which he makes astute use of in his meticulous account of the celebrated writer’s short life…The Chekhov who emerges from Rayfield’s richly textured pages is rife with contradictions…In short, he was exactly the sort of man capable of writing his brilliant and indelible stories and plays.”


  • “Williams has a rich, resonant voice; he moves readily into the characters whose letters form so much of the work.” 


  • A 1998 New York Times Notable Book for Nonfiction

Listener Reviews

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  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Maria | 1/15/2008

    " This is an amazing biography, well-researched, well-written, with great insight and respect for the subject. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Naomi | 6/17/2007

    " I read this ages ago but my primary memory of this book is putting it down and clasping my hands exclaiming 'I love Anton Chekhov'. What a beautiful man! "

About the Author

Donald Rayfield is professor of Russian literature at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. His books include Chekhov: The Evolution of His Art and Catastrophe and Comedy: Chekhov's Cherry Orchard.

About the Narrator

Fred Williams, a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, works in theater, film, television, and radio in England, Ireland, and America. Besides narrating audiobooks, he is a performer in living-history reenactments, an archer, and a poet.