The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

Update: For some reason, wordpress is not allowing me to comment in response to Dark Orpheus’s comment, so I’m doing it here: DO–I’m really looking forward to hearing/reading what you think in regards to Russian authors–and I’ve added your recommendations (thank you, thank you) to the list.  In fact, I’ll be picking up the collection of short stories tonight I hope!  

Note: there will most likely be another summer poetry challenge post later in the day or tomorrow (I’m taking my time with these, as you can see).

I’ve been struggling lately with my love for Russian literature. There is a part of me that would love to go into grad school for Slavic Languages and Literature. I need to get my vocabulary back (and get over my irrational fear of speaking–if it’s not perfect I get tongue-tied), but I have books in Russian and I have an adopted Russian babyshka who only lets me speak Russian when I’m around her. The problem? Slavic programs are not doing so well lately, and many of them cater specifically to heritage speakers. Moreover, I missed my opportunity to study in Russia when I was in college (for some reason I thought my time was better spent paying for a summer in the field for my geology major–that was a bad, bad choice in hindsight). While I could arrange a trip on my own through a language program or something, it’s pricey on a grad student budget. So instead I find myself studying nineteenth-century American and British literature, hoping that one day I’ll be able to incorporate my love for Russian authors and the language/culture in the future (I would try for comparative literature, but those programs don’t really seem to be faring all that well either–my timing stinks).

That said, I think it’s time for me to create a personal reading challenge. With fall coming on, I find myself leaning towards the “loose baggy monsters” of Tolstoy (especially with a new War and Peace translation coming in October). But I also find myself wanting to read lesser known works (or at least, those works that aren’t always taught in undergrad Russian lit classes), or re-read those authors that didn’t necessarily get a fair trial when I was exposed to them the first time around (Dostoevsky, I’m looking at you here). So perhaps I’ll pick at least 12 works (one per month) that I can delve into in the coming year. If anyone has any suggestions, please, please, please let me know. I’m more familiar with late 19th and early 20th-century works. In the past I’ve read Turgenev, Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Pasternak, Bulgakov, Akhmatova, Blok, a little Bely (although I have Petersburg in Russian and English, so this might be one of the first for me to try), etc, etc. I’m always willing to increase the number of books I read in this little personal plan o’ mine.

For now, I think I will start compiling lists and looking at various college syllabi for some suggestions….

9 responses to this post.

  1. What an intriguing Russian challenge! (By the way, I think it is absurd that literature programs are organized so strictly by period and nation – not even by language, sometimes – as if authors are never influenced by works from other times and places.) I have recently been considering giving Dostoevsky another chance: in college I read and disliked “Notes from Underground” and gave up halfway through “Demons.” Chekhov’s short stories (I am so much more familiar with his plays) are also luring me, as is that behemoth, “War and Peace.” This all may have to go on hold for a few years, though, while I read “Tristram Shandy,” “Ulysses” and Proust. Sigh…


  2. I’d like to read more Russian authors. I really, really liked War and Peace. Maybe when the new translation comes out in paper, I will be ready for a reread? I did read the new Briggs translation, which I thought was good, but I suppose I don’t really know enough to make a comparison! I would definitely like to read Anna K now, though! Good luck on your challenge.


  3. Sycorax Pine: I had a bad experience with Dostoevsky, but I’m hoping a second go-round will be better. And I would love to read Chekhov again. I read quite a few in the original, but it was quite a while ago, and I don’t remember many!

    Danielle: Thanks! I highly recommend Anna K (even though when I first read it, someone told me the ending, very upsetting). And I always enjoy any translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky (Pevear also translates Dumas and other French authors as well)…


  4. You know more about the topic than I do — I’m looking forward to hearing more about Russian authors!


  5. I’ll be interested to know what you read. By the way, I picked up “The Master and the Margarita” and am hooked already. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to juggle it with the Stalin, but it may be a good companion read. I work with a young Russian woman and she claims the Bulgakov to be the best book she’s ever read. Pretty high praise.


  6. Dorothy: I hope I do a better job about reporting on what I read! I tend to read a book and then forget to blog about it. So this is a double challenge for me 🙂

    Ian: I’m so glad you like Bulgakov so far! And it would be a great companion to the Stalin bio. The story is, that Stalin actually liked one of Bulgakov’s works (I think it might be The White Guard) and that is why he didn’t have Bulgakov killed. Instead, he just made it impossible for Bulgakov to publish. If I remember correctly, The Master and Margarita wasn’t published in Russia until the 1960s…


  7. I am down with Russian authors (so to speak), but you might consider Carl V.’s RIP Challenge, which will happen end August through Oct.


  8. LK: I’ll definitely check out the RIP challenge, thanks!


  9. Oh dear. I am in the process of drawing up a reading plan for my personal reading next year. “A Year of Russian Reading 2008” I call it. But if you can read Russian, you’re already ahead of me on the readings.

    But if you don’t mind, maybe I can throw in some suggestions: Nikolai Leskov? The Modern Library has a collection of his short stories: The Enchanted Wanderer: Selected Tales. Perhaps Andrey Platonov? Or Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, edited and translated by Robert Chandler.


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