Russian Reading: Week 3 Round-Up
Everyone seems to be making good progress so far! Rachel recently finished Gogol’s short story, The Nose, which she adored. I think I’d also be interested in reading this after I’m done with Dead Souls, because Nabokov actually goes into some detail about Gogol’s obsession with noses in his critical biography. Claire has also been captivated by Gogol’s writing in Dead Souls. Alex in Leeds is reading two works of Russian literature which she hasn’t specified yet – I think one may be The Russian Gentleman by Sergei Askakov. Meanwhile, she looks on back on her experience of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which she finished in July of this year. Alex has also written a fantastic review of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Woman… (Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby), stories which she describes as being ‘dystopian fairytales’.
These stories are delicate but brutal, intriguingly dream-like and frequently have a twist or unexpected change in tone that makes them truly ‘fantastic’. There is a cruel streak running through them. They are potently bleak. They are, to some readers I imagine, beautiful.
Set frequently in a place the author calls ‘orchards of unusual possibilities’ (which is a wonderfully Soviet euphemism), the subjects range from the eponymous woman who tries to kill her neighbour’s baby to ghostly meetings in the woods, from deadly epidemics to post-apocalyptic homesteaders. The collection is broken into four sections – Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, Requiems and Fairy Tales – and they were written over a thirty year period, deeply rooting them both in the ancient mythology and modern history of Russia.
A character experiencing the start of starvation in one story serves as a great example of this – starving in a fictional post-apocalyptic future, living like many of the peasants who died in the all-too-real brutality of the Stalinist era and yet very firmly reminding the reader of darker, older fairy tales. A matryoshka doll of myth, history and imagination calmly included as a bit-part character in a much bigger story.
Sounds absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!
November’s been a surprisingly busy month for me. But I guess that’s life, it’s never what you expect! Still, I’ve managed to trudge through The Master and Margarita (more thoughts on that later…) and am now halfway through Dead Souls, which is fantastic stuff. Also halfway through Nikolai Gogol, by Vladimir Nabokov, which is extremely well-written but probably only readable because I’m going through Dead Souls at the same time. On its own, it’s a tad dry.
In other reading endeavours, I haven’t been doing too well. I’ve been quite unwell lately, and so I find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time, and can’t seem to commit myself to a single book either. I’ve just been flitting half-heartedly through different things without really finding anything I like.
And so (sorry Claire), I’ve decided I just can’t finish Wolf Hall. It’s just a chore at the moment, because I couldn’t care less about it. Knowing my habit of eventually coming back to books I can’t finish, I’ll probably read it at some later stage. Okay, actually, the real reason is because it’s a library loan and I’ve been so negligent with returning the books that my library card has been cancelled. Haha! So I need to go and sort that out, and unless there’s a lot of goodwill on their side, there’s not much chance of them renewing those books for me…
After re-reading Norwegian Wood (yes, that’s my own copy) for Bellezza’s readalong, I’ll probably stick my nose into something on my shelf that I haven’t read yet – Moby Dick, or some of the Chinese classics maybe.