*Sakhalin Island*

That is a book by Anton Chekhov, part memoir, part ethnographic study of a penal colony and the surrounding economic institutions on Sakhalin Island.  I hardly ever hear of this work, but it is both a literary and social science masterpiece; I will teach it next spring in my Law and Literature class.  Here is one review of the book.  This excerpt reminded me of some recent events:

On the fifth line I marked their age.  The women who were already over forty remembered theirs only with difficulty, and had to think for a bit before answering.  Armenians from the Yerevan Region had no idea of their age at all.  One of them answered me: "Might be thirty, but it could be fifty by now."  In cases such as these, the age had to be determined approximately from their appearance and then verified from the relevant prison documents.  Youths of fifteen and slightly older would usually reduce their ages.  Some women would already by married, or have been engaged for ages in prostitution, yet still said they were thirteen or fourteen.  The point about this is that children and juveniles in the poorest families receive a food ration from the state; which is issued only up to the age of fifteen, and here a simple calculation induces young people and their parents to tell lies.

These days, lying about age, and continued existence, seems to a standard practice in Japan.  Here is more on Japan's "missing elderly".  Apparently 884 people are listed as over 150 years of age; it is believed that many of these pensions still are being collected.


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