I Finished The Count of Monte Cristo

At approximately four o’clock this afternoon (give or take an hour, since I don’t remember exactly what the time was), I finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo. I talked about my desire to read it last year and I’ve spent the last one-and-a-half months working on it, while reading some other stuff, too. It’s a heavy, complicated book so I needed some breaks now and then.

The final verdict is I loved it. I would highly recommend it—as long as you read the Robin Buss translation, which is the one I read. It’s the best one out there because it’s the most modern (the stilted Victorian language in the older ones is just not something you’ll want to deal with, trust me) and it has handy little footnotes. Dumas made reference to all sorts of random things: classical allusions that I assume an educated person in the nineteenth century would have known; stuff about life in the nineteenth century that you’d probably only know if you lived back then; and random weird stuff. The footnotes explain it all so you aren’t completely lost.

The ending was a bit surprising to me. Not so much the events themselves, but the message I feel the author was trying to send. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave any discussion of that out of this post.

I know the book is long, but it’s well worth the read. I usually read very quickly, so it was humbling to have to spend over a month reading something. I tried to read a couple chapters a day (most of them aren’t terribly long). There are one-hundred seventeen total in the book.

One of my favorite things I learned from the book, aside from getting a glimpse of what Parisian society was like in this era, came from the end, where there’s a chronology of Dumas’ life. In 1858, he moved to Russia. Some sources say he was there for over a year, while others say it was closer to nine months, but regardless, Dumas liked Russia enough to write travel guides about the place. Say what you want about the man—he certain had good taste in travel destinations.

Have you read any good classic works of literature lately? Let me know in the comments!


The Book Quote Challenge: Day 3

the master and margarita

Today, my friends, is the last day of this book quote challenge. If you missed the first two posts in the series, here’s part 1 and part 2.

I had to choose something really unique to finish this off, so here goes. Today’s quote is from Mikhail Bulgakov’s magnum opus The Master and Margarita. I’ve read it multiple times in Russian and in English. This is right at the beginning of the novel, when two characters—ordinary Muscovites—are talking to a very strange visitor they’ve just met. It is the strange visitor who says this.

“Yes, man is mortal, but that would only be half the trouble. The worst of it is that he’s sometimes unexpectedly mortal—there’s the trick! And generally he’s unable to say what he’s going to do this same evening.”

I can’t really say too much about this quote without giving away a very important aspect of the plot (and I don’t want to do that, as I’m hoping some of you will read the book—the O’Connor/Burgin translation is the best I’ve seen in English), but it was the first quote I ever heard from the book. My professor in first-year Russian recited it to us and I was hooked. Yes, the book has such cult status in Russia that some people can recite bits from it.

For this last day in the challenge, I tag Christina from The Rolling Writer. I know she’s been under the weather lately, but her latest blog entry implies she’ll be feeling better soon, so I hope it’s okay I’ve tagged you, Christina. Obviously there’s no rush to post—just do it when you can.

For those who don’t know Christina, she’s a fellow writer who just published her first book. She likes history and foreign languages and other good things I like, so her blog is always fun to read.

The Book Quote Challenge: Day 1

i curse the river of time

I’ve been tagged in a cute challenge by Emily of A Cup of English Tea. Emily is a writer of fiction, blogger, violinist, pianist, and all-around nice and cool person. I think I met her via the #WritingChallenge group on Twitter (I’ve mentioned this group before—basically, it’s a group of people who write and encourage others who are writing by connecting through a monthly hashtag) and I’ve been following her blog ever since.

Anyway, the challenge is pretty straightforward: post a quote from a book, write about it, and tag a person each day. This goes for just three days, so nothing too arduous.

The quote for today comes from Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time. (Very, very dedicated, long-term readers may remember I blogged about this book years ago.) The quote I’ve chosen is a bit long, so bear with me. It comes from the beginning of the book, describing the narrator’s mother and her visit to a cemetery where some of her family members are buried.

Three years earlier her father had been buried (irritable and impatient as he always had been) in the Fladstrand Church cemetery that bordered the lovely park, Plantagen, which shared with the cemetery its trees, shared its beech and ash and maple, in the same plot where her mother, wide eyed and confused, had lain down almost willingly two years before, where her brother had lain for thirty-five years, dazed and unwillingly after too short a life.

A dove was looking down from atop the family gravestone. It was made from metal so it could not fly away, but sometimes it went missing all the same and only a spike would remain. Someone had taken that dove, someone out there maybe had an entire collection of doves and angels and other small, Christian bronze sculptures in a cupboard at home and on long evenings would close the curtains and take them out and run his fingers gently over the smooth, cold bodies.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. I love that passage so much. I love the language in the first paragraph describing her family who are already buried there. I love the description of the dove and the idea that someone keeps a collection of the sculptures in his house. The whole book is infused with the same sad tone that colors this excerpt. It’s actually a really sad book, now that I think about it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read it, though. It’s such a good book. Plus, it’s translated from Norwegian and I feel like it’s my mission in life (along with exposing people to classical music) to get people in my country (the United States) to read more literature from foreign countries.

For the challenge today, I tag Kiera from Chapters in Flux. Kiera is another writer I met through the #WritingChallenge group, though she’s not American like Emily and I are—she’s Australian!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series. I promise that quote will be slightly less depressing than this one.

Documentary: Russia’s Open Book

I watched a great documentary film yesterday, everyone. It’s called “Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin.” The title makes it sound way more political than it actually is. I mean, it is anti-Putin, but not overly so. It’s really interested and I learned a lot about contemporary Russian writers. There are six featured in the film: Dmitry Bykov, Zakhar Prilepin, Mariam Petrosyan, Vladimir Sorokin, Anna Starobinets, and Ludmila Ulitskaya. Prior to watching it, I’d heard of Sorokin (he wrote a book I desperately want to to read, Day of the Oprichnik), Bykov, and Ulitskaya. Now that I’ve watched the film, I want to read all the others’ work, too, especially Prilepin.

Watch the film below, exclusively on this blog! (Okay, it’s not exclusive to this blog; I’ve just always wanted to say that.)

(Click here to see on YouTube.)

There is a companion website, too, if you’re interested.

Interpretations of Tyutchev’s ‘Cicero’

I’ve been meaning to post about this fabulous Russian poem, “Cicero” by Fyodor Tyutchev, for some time now, but I kept forgetting. I discovered it in a book about Alexander Kolchak that I’m reading right now.

Anyway, here is the poem. The translation is not mine – it’s from here (I modified the line spacing and corrected a spelling error).

The Roman orator spoke out
‘midst civil war and strife:
"Too long I slumbered, and Rome’s night
Has overtaken me upon my journey!"
True! But in parting with Rome’s glory
From the Capitoline heights
You watched in all its grandeur
The setting of her bloody sun! . . .

Blessed are they who sojourned here
In this world’s fateful hours-
For they were summoned by the angels
As guests to a great feast;
They witnessed spectacles majestic,
Were brought into the inner circle,
And, while there, drank immortal life
From heav’n’s own chalice!

Continue reading “Interpretations of Tyutchev’s ‘Cicero’”

З днем незалежності! [Happy Independence Day!]

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday, August 24, was the twenty-first anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. Ukraine is one of my absolute favorite countries – I was there for two or three days in 2009 and I have spent three years now wishing I could go back – so I decided to prepare a nice little post as a tribute to this country.

Before it became independent in 1991, Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union and before that, the Russian Empire. For much of its history, it has been ruled over by various people, such as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Even though it was not an independent state for much of modern history, Ukraine has a distinct language and culture.

Despite the fact that the Ukrainian language was often repressed (both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union practiced policies of Russification), it is a rich and vibrant language today. Though it is closely related to Russian and is part of the East Slavic subgroup along with Russian, it has had a heavy Polish influence and is distinct from the Russian language. I have never properly studied it, but I can understand quite a bit of it when it’s spoken. To compare it to Russian, consider the title of this post: З днем незалежності. In Russian, that is С днём независимости. Close, but not exactly the same.
Continue reading “З днем незалежності! [Happy Independence Day!]”

Literary Translation and the Nobel Prize in Literature

On Wednesday, I hosted literary translator Lisa Carter on this blog. I also wrote a guest post for her blog, too, about literary translation and the Nobel Prize in literature. I am too tired to blog properly today, so just read my guest post on her website if you have not already.

After today, only six more days left for Blogathon. Isn’t it crazy? I can’t believe I’ve blogged so much!
Continue reading “Literary Translation and the Nobel Prize in Literature”

There is Happy Russian Literature – If You Know Where to Look

Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на другу, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.

[All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.]
-L. Tolstoy

I think Tolstoy’s famous phrase could certainly apply to literature as well. All happy literature may contain conflict, but everything gets resolved by the end, oftentimes unrealistically. But every unhappy piece of literature has its own way of being unhappy.

Until this weekend, I was under the impression that there was no happy Russian literature. I always chalked it up to that elusive Russian soul. Pretty much all the Russian literature I’ve read has been quite depressing. The Master and Margarita is, at heart, a very melancholy piece of work, despite its dark humor throughout. (I won’t spoil the ending because you absolutely must read it for yourself, but if you want to discuss it in the comments, feel free.) Doctor Zhivago is likewise depressing, as is Anna Karenina. Crime and Punishment is a bit harder to characterize since there is redemption – or at least the promise of redemption – at the end, but there is a sufficient amount people dying and suffering to render it depressing. In the novel I’m reading now, A Hero of our Time, two people have already died and I’m not even halfway through.

The novel that changed this for me was Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter. I just finished it this weekend. And yes, I know there is a civil war (the Pugachev uprising under Catherine the Great) that takes place throughout most of the novel, but everything just works out so well for the protagonist in the end. Really, what was Pushkin thinking? It is quite shocking and it’s not like Pushkin was incapable of writing something completely depressing. (Have you read his poem The Bronze Horseman?)

I Love Russian Literature. But I’m Afraid of My Lit Class.

We will be reading Red Cavalry later in the semester, unfortunately not in the original Russian.

I debated about whether to post this or not and eventually decided to take the plunge. I don’t usually like to write about my time in high school because it was an extremely unhappy period for me. But here goes…

I had my first classes last week, one of which is a Russian literature class that I probably should have taken a while ago. I have been avoiding taking a literature class – this is the first and only one I have taken at university – because of a rather horrid experience I had in a senior-year English class back in high school. This is one of the reasons why I am glad I blog rather anonymously, because that allows me to write about this anecdote.

The teacher of the aforementioned class did not like me. Yes, I know that is a very common and overdone complaint from students, but in my case it was true. I’ll be honest: I was not a student whom teachers disliked, as I always did well, but this teacher and I did not get along. She was unfairly biased against me, and though I realized this at the time, it has become more clear with hindsight. (Imagine my surprise when I read in Elif Batuman’s The Possessed about a published scholar’s argument that advanced an argument about Dostoevsky that I wrote in an essay on Crime and Punishment. I received a B on the paper; I deserved an A- at the very least.) I barely managed to scrape by with a decent grade and at the end of the year, I was so disgusted with the experience that I vowed to abandon the study of literature forever.

I have not taken a single literature class since, but last semester I found out that I would need a Russian literature class for my degree. I signed up for a rather broad survey course (okay, it does have an underlying theme, but I can’t tell you the title of the course because that would give away all my secrets, you know?) So far, I am really liking the class – I think the professor really likes what I have to say, which is so unlike my high school experience with the literature course.

Anyway, hopefully everything will work out. At the very least, I will have read loads of Russian literature by the end of this semester.

(Random note: we are reading Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry. The title in Russian is Конармия [konarmiya]. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that simply mean cavalry, not red cavalry? Ah, the great mysteries of life!)

Finished! And Home.

I am finally finished with this semester. I only had one exam (but I already whined about that so I’ll refrain from whining further) and now I am finished and have arrived home. The exam went well overall, though I was worried I would not finish in time, but I did and I received a good mark in the class. You know what the Russians (and the Bard himself!) say: Всё хорошо, что хорошо кончается. [All’s well that ends well.]

Not to brag or anything, but… take a look at this:

You can click to see it larger. And I’ll save you the trouble that it’s a screenshot of my grade for Russian class from my account on my university’s system. The “C” means for credit (as opposed to pass/fail) and the 3.0 is the number of credits. The A+ is my grade. How in the world did I manage to pull off an A+ in an advanced Russian class?? Believe me, I’m not complaining, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, I have some big plans for this break. I will be working on my thesis and some other school-related reading, but I also have some more fun stuff planned. I am working on a blog post about a big decision I made recently and I would like to release my first translation from the Russian this break. I have chosen my work – a Chekhov short story I’m sure you’ve heard of – and I will offer it for a small fee. Yes, you could find a translation on the internet, but mine will be better. I have excellent attention to detail, perfectionism, and I will include little historical/translator’s notes to explain some bits so you can fully appreciate life in the Crimea and Moscow at the turn of the century.

What do you think? Would you buy a translation from me? (It would be in ebook and/or PDF format, so we are not talking about a huge sum of money here.)