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.

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18 thoughts on “Russian Reading: Week 3 Round-Up

  1. No worries about Wolf Hall! I haven’t started it yet so I could just postpone it for next year maybe, or when Bring Up the Bodies is available on paperback and I can read them back to back. :) The thing we never want to happen is to get burnt out lest we stop blogging again hahahaha.

    What Chinese classics do you have?

    P.S. Get well soon. xx

    1. Thanks Claire! Yes, good idea. I wouldn’t mind reading Bring Up the Bodies either. Now that I’m over the initial shock, I’m really curious as to how it won the Booker.

      Right now… I have on my shelf Dream of Red Chambers/Story of the Stone. One is Volume 5 in the Penguin series (really need to get my hands on Volume 1 haha), and the other is a complete edition in one volume – but with an older translation. And I also have The Golden Lotus (Jin Ping Mei), which is like Ming Dynasty erotica – still banned in China today :O

      And I have some Eileen Chang books waiting to be read! I guess they’re modern classics too, though the Chinese probably don’t think so, given the length of their history haha

      1. I’m planning to read The Story of the Stone, too! Though next year probably, not anytime soon. Eileen Chang is amazing! Love her.

        The Golden Lotus I haven’t heard about before. I wonder what Ming Dynasty erotica would be like? You better post a review on that one!

        1. I think it’s very similar to The Story of the Stone, in terms of having a sprawling cast of characters and timeframe etc., but it was just one of the first novels to be really explicit about sex and extramarital affairs.

  2. tuesday, I’m miserably behind as I’m buried in a Stephen King book my book club chose (11-22-63). It’s very good, but…long. Here I was planning on spending November in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood and The Master and Margarita! Well, I’m certainly going to read them, and review them, hopefully sooner vs. later. What I’ll do is pick up The Master and Margarita first, then Murakami’s novel. I trust it will still be within the month of November. Thanks for being patient! xo

    1. Hmm I thought I already wrote a reply to this comment, but I don’t know where it went?! Haha anyway, I was just saying how I’m the last person on earth to be fussed about reading schedules – I’m so bad at keeping to them myself! Hehe I hope you’ll enjoy all three books, can’t wait to hear what you think of Norwegian Wood especially :) tis one of my favourites!

  3. *giggle* I’m a she not a he, but I appreciate that’s not always obvious unless you check my ‘About’ page. :) A Rusian Gentleman is one of the two books, I was torn over the other one but decided on Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows The Don in the end but I’d better get reading!

    1. Ooops I’m SO SORRY! Really really sorry. It must be so frustrating to have to explain that, I know how it feels because my name is spelt with a ‘J’ instead of the more common ‘G’, and people write it wrong all the time ;)

      I’ve never heard of that book so I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

    1. Haha hi, I like that attitude of yours! (no sarcasm intended)

      I can’t possibly fit Turgenev in now, I have too much on my plate at the moment, but I’ll definitely be reading it sometime soon. So many great things to read, never enough time! ;)

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