Unlike most Russian literature this story start pretty much from the off with the main character and his world introduced with light but penetrating brush strokes. By the time other authors might have got onto explaining the family tree and the situation of the village the main character Ippolit has gone through a day’s work.
As the recorder of births, marriages and deaths in a small village he has a clerks job and a clerks salary and his relationship with his mother-in-law reveals that he was married and widowed and lives in poverty.
In a town where the funeral directors are almost going bust through lack of deaths the moment when his mother-in-law dies is well known across Ippolit’s village. But before she dies she breathes the secret of her hidden jewels and in just a matter of pages a world, a character and now a mission have all become apparent.