Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Remains of the Day

As my last day approaches, the pace of packing picks up. The eclectic nature of my Russian history and literature collection seems somewhat oppressive. Part of my obsession with Russia was spontaneous (Who can shake Gogol and Dostoyevsky even if they wanted to?) but part of it is intentional: Wanting to achieve some sort of depth in addition to breadth in my readings, I decided to stick tightly to Russia, and the Revolution in particular, rather than continuing to read everything in sight.

Alas, my readings are limited to Russia now, but people seem to publish hundred times faster than I can read, and I ought to limit the scope of my readings more each day. Instead, I read everything about Russian politics, history, literature, and culture, and seem to be headed toward more books on theatre, film, ethnography, philsophy, and science, etc. As I pack up Osip Mandelstam's Stone, I can't say that I know enough about Mandelstam or Russian poetry to have gotten very much from the work. Did Nina Berberova's novellas make any more of an impact? Into the plastic crate with them all.

I suppose my knowledge of Russian literature and poetry is particularly superficial. I'm on more solid ground when it comes to politics. But it seems strange to encounter so many references to key Russian authors without giving them a stab. Into the crate goes a book of Chekhov plays (Is there anything yet in theatre to compare with Uncle Vanya or the Cherry Orchard?), a poetry collection by Marina Tsvetaeva (Love the poem titles--From Insomnia, Sahara, Some Ancestor of Mine, We Shall Not Escape Hell, Bent with Worry, An Attempt at Jealousy, Strong Doesn't Mate with Strong, etc.), a biography entitled, The Death of A Poet: The Last Days of Marina Tsvetaeva (pure tragedy: who decides to return to Russia with a husband who fought for the White Army?), Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (which sparked the early obsession with both Russian history and crime literature in general), and Gork's University Days, which at least, gave me some insight into the Soviet Union's favorite author.

Shall I continue? This post might become a children's book called "Into the Crate..." So into the crate goes Doctor Zhivago (as crazy, chaotic, and romantic as the Russian Revolution and Civil War--but not necessarily better than the movie) and dozens of other equally brilliant books. And into the crate goes Nobel Prize winner Bunin's angry diatribe against the communists Cursed Days. Then goes Leo Tolstoy's Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, wherein the famous author reveals a certain humility and sense of humor, notwithstanding all of the aristocratic privilege. And his The Death of Ivan Llyich (showing the same humility and honesty about mortality as he had about youth so many decades previously). And I can't forget his novella, The Cossacks, wherein a young Tolstoy shows that he can write an old-fashioned, romantic adventure tale (Sure to have generated scores of post-colonial literary dissertations). Next Chekhov's The Duel and Other Stories (so cool, so understated, so enigmatic) and Ivan Turganev's Fathers and Children (compelled me to read more about the anarchist Bakhunin who was the model for the generation in revolt; and made me wonder whether my translation was fairly depicting Turganev's famous fluid style).

Who knew I had read so much literature these past four years? I'm only sorry I didn't post as much about literature as I have about political and social history.

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