Don Barton Johnson—aka Donald Barton Johnson and D. Barton Johnson—is one of the great Nabokov scholars (you can read the beginning of an appreciation here), and an old pal of mine sent me a link to an article of his on a subject that (as my mother used to say) I never thought would come up: Nabokov and Ayn Rand. The two were, of course, both born in Saint Petersburg, and, as Johnson says, “became bestselling American writers in the late 1950s,” but who would have thought there was more to say on the subject? Johnson discusses them in connection with Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky vs. Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and pop music; I’ll quote a paragraph on perhaps the most recondite link:

There is only one slender justification for mentioning We the Living in connection with Nabokov. One of the motifs of Rand’s dreadful revolutionary epic is the folk quatrain (chastushka) “Yablochko” or “Little Apple” (Johnson). The beginning is always “Oy, yablochko, /Kuda kotishsya,” i.e., “Little apple, where are you rolling?” The closing couplet may be anything, but one popular version was “Na Chrezvychaiku, / Ne vorotishsya,” i.e., “to Cheka HQ, / and you won’t be coming back.” The chastushka was especially popular in the Crimea where the Rozenbaums and the Nabokovs spent the civil war years. Nabokov introduced it into both Bend Sinister and LATH! [Look at the Harlequins!]. In the latter Vadim Vadimovich is fleeing across the Russian border in 1918 when he is challenged by a Red border guard: “And whither may you be rolling (kotishsya), little apple” (yablochko)?” Vadim coolly shoots him dead. One is tempted to link this episode to Nabokov’s March 1918 Crimean encounter with a “bow-legged Bolshevik sentry” who threatened to arrest the young lepidopterist for signalling a British warship with his butterfly net (Speak, Memory 131).

Here‘s a detailed Russian Wikipedia article on the song, here‘s a vocal version from the wonderful film of Bulgakov’s Собачье сердце (Heart of a Dog), and here‘s an instrumental/dance version—see, you do know it after all, even if you’re not Russian. (Thanks, Growler!)


  1. So, that’s the source of the title for the novel “Wohin rollst du, Äpfelchen?” which apparently is about a German prisoner of war in WWI Russia.
    Your link to the vocal version is incorrect.

  2. Thanks to this post, I went looking for more Яблочко videos on Youtube and found this.
    I blame you for the clockwork nightmares I will have tonight. And by that, I mean, “I thank you, sir!”
    And yes, as Vasha noted, you have two links to the instrumental and none to the vocal and now I’m really curious about which vocal version you were intending to link to.

  3. Oops! Fixed now.

  4. Rand is certainly a more interesting figure if you look at her in the context of her Russian background. I had no idea she was a Dostoyevsky fan – that really makes no sense in the context of her “philosophy”.

  5. “Little apple” was a regular-variety street couplet in Ukraine, with the lines about handsome boys and dinosaur parents, before it became politicised by the revolutionary sailors. There are a few anti-Red versions too, although perhaps apocryphal – here’s the one I remember:
    Пароход идет
    Да мимо пристани
    Будем рыбу кормить
    Пароход идет,
    А волны кольцами
    Будем рыбу кормить

  6. Here‘s a direct link to Сара’s video, which does indeed get weird toward the end!

  7. “Yarbles! Great bolshy yarblockos to you!”

  8. Yarbles < your balls, of course.

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