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A Cape Town Decameron-bookcover

By: Stanislas M. Yassukovich

A Cape Town Decameron

Pages: 110 Ratings: 5.0
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The plague struck the City of Florence in 1348. A contemporary poet and writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, imagined a group of fashionable young people fleeing the plague and spending a “lockdown” on an estate in the Tuscan countryside. They entertained themselves by telling stories. Of course, the tales were all written by Boccaccio himself and he published them in 1354 under the title The Decameron.

When the Covid-19 pandemic produced lockdown in Cape Town, author Stanislas M. Yassukovich decided to emulate this idea, and wrote a collection of over 20 stories which he circulated to a group of family and friends – all in lockdown in various parts of the world. These are the ones his first readers liked best.

Boccaccio’s Decameron contains some one hundred tales. This collection is more sparing of the reader – just as the Covid-19 pandemic has fortunately been more sparing than the 14th century Plague.

Stanislas Yassukovich was born in Paris of a White Russian émigré father and a French mother. Settling in the United States at the outset of World War II, he was brought up on the North Shore of Long Island, N.Y., attending Green Vale School there, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, and Harvard College. After service in the U.S Marine Corps, he joined White, Weld & Co., New York investment bankers and was posted to its London office. Yassukovich subsequently formed and managed European Banking Company, became a Deputy Chairman of The Stock Exchange, London, Chairman of the Securities & Futures Authority, and, finally, Chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe, Middle East & Africa. After service as a non-executive director on various boards, he retired to the South of France. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is married to the former Diana Townsend, and has three children: Tatyana, Michael and Nicholas.

Customer Reviews
3 reviews
3 reviews
  • Dimitri

    I have read virtually all the stories in your Decameron and enjoyed them. You have a distinct gift for storytelling.

    I am jaded by having had my first exposure to your writing from “Two Lives”, which I found so remarkably well constructed, blended and engaging that all that has followed has been overshadowed by it.

    That said, I find that when you write of direct experiences rather than imagined ones your writing sings like crystal rather than the muted sound emitted from less carefully-crafted glassware.

  • Ananymous

    Stanislas M. Yassukovich hails from a world and time where “privilege” was not a dirty word. For centuries in the US and the UK, the goal of most ambitious people was to attain the status, wealth and power that defined the ruling classes. If one was not born to the manner, then they tried to do everything they could to achieve it. Of course, being a member of the upper classes, or of what once may have been called “distinguished birth,” does not necessarily guarantee a life of happiness or fulfilment. Much like Scott Fitzgerald, Waugh, Chekhov or Maugham, Yassukovich understands that pain and death and failure and love and parental concern and loyalty are universal and do not discriminate according to class. Everyone has the potential to suffer, or succeed, equally, regardless of whether one went to Harvard or rides to hounds.

    In his “Cape Town Decameron,” an allusion to Bocaccio’s Decameron, Yassukovich presents his readers with 12 short stories, each of which reads like a morality play—but leavened with mordant wit and a knowing awareness of humanity’s all-too-common foibles. The opening tale “No Fit-No Game” plants the reader directly in the rarefied air of London’s clubland in what appears to be the early 1970s, although no dates are given. The period is significant because the attitudes and assumptions of the characters would seem, sad to say, somewhat out of place in modern London. The protagonist Jasper Jakes dines at his clubs, wears his presumably Savile Row-tailored suits, and hunts with a West Country Pack, not unlike a character out of Surtees. An ill-matched marriage eventually compels to break out of the iron routines that have ruled his life and finally brings him into the modern world.

    The third tale “Resurrection” has the narrator run into an old schoolmate pushing shopping carts in a Florida mall. But there is nothing hardscrabble here. Because this is a story in Yassukovich’s world, the location in Florida is Hobe Sound--one of the most exclusive enclaves in the world--the school that both attended was Harvard—where they were both members of an unnamed but famous finals club—and that the shopping cart-pusher in question is estranged from his wealthy wife who has houses in Boston and the South of France. However, it would be unwise to discount the message of the story simply because the problems the characters face are not the same as those who live in trailer parks. Marriages break up and love fails whether one is on the Social Register or not.

    One of my favourite stories is the eighth, “The Pianist.” Here Yassukovich departs somewhat from his model and makes the protagonist decidedly “non-U.” Joe Ventri is an Italian-American jazz pianist who, despite being married to his childhood sweetheart from New York’s Little Italy, has a roving eye. Nevertheless, his talent and his roving eye take him into the world Yassukovich knows well—New York’s Carlyle Hotel, Oyster Bay and Southampton. Not only is the story a good one—and Joe eventually acquits himself—but the structure of the piece, incorporating lyrics from famous jazz standards that serve to reflect Joe’s thoughts, make it both beautifully written and an effective literary technique. (It also had me humming to myself by the end.)

    The last and longest tale “The Honest Pursuit” reads like something the great Russian short-story writer Turgenev might have written. It is the story of a young Englishman of noble blood who, rather like Candide, has a hard time finding his place in the world but eventually discovers his calling in the world of fox-hunting. Granted, to many modern readers the notion that hunting would be an acceptable vocation would be inconceivable, not only because of the public outcry at the sport but also because hunting foxes has been banned in the UK since 2004. Such trivialities aside, it is a beautifully written story and Yassukovich—a keen huntsman himself—endows the story with the kind of understanding and loving attention to detail that Hemingway gave to his descriptions of a now-equally unpopular blood sport, bullfighting. This story, like the rest, takes place in a vague yet somewhat golden age that existed in the US and the UK in the years following World War II and the rise of political correctness. To many readers, these stories describe a forgotten age, although one is still very much in living memory. It is not a better or a worse world. It is simply the one that the author knows and describes, warts and all. A world of nightclubs and fox-hunting and glamour and elegance and Ivy League educations. A world of privilege, to be sure, but also a world that, like an old Cary Grant or Fred Astaire movie, still has the power to charm and captivate.

  • Jim Alkon

    Yassukovich offers up a new set of short stories, notable as much for the why and how behind them as the marvelous stories themselves. The author explains that back in 1354 when people in Florence were fleeing from the plague and seeking safety in an isolated Tuscan countryside, the poet and writer Giovanni Boccaccio used the solace and setting to write a series of tales that was later published as The Decameron.
    The Author replicates the concept as his forced isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic places him in a similar atmosphere conducive to writing and reflecting — which he does so well in the form of independent tales that explore the character, conscience and curiosity in people.

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