I know I said I was going to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich next, but I wasn’t quite up for it, so I decided to read Aksyonov‘s 1961 Звёздный билет (translated as A Starry Ticket), which is a delight. (And I’m reading it on my new Kindle, which is also a delight! See the comment thread to this Lizok post for my decision process.) It’s fun to get a snapshot of the slangy speech of hip Soviet youth circa 1960, and one word in particular gave me a peek into the odd folkways of the Eastern Bloc in that era. At one point Dimka, one of the protagonists, asks an Estonian who has invited his little group of adolescents (who have fled the tedium of their Moscow lives) to a Tallinn club for dancing, “А что у вас тут танцуют?” [What do you dance here?] The answer is “Чарлстон и липси” [the Charleston and the lipsi], and he thinks “Вот это жизнь! Чарлстон и липси!” [Now, that’s life! The Charleston and the lipsi!]. But what was lipsi? A little googling turned up the fact that it was a dance invented in East Germany in 1958 to try to distract young people from the vile temptations of rock-and-roll and the sexy hip-swaying associated with it. As Anna Funder describes it in her book Stasiland: “Just as ‘The Black Channel’ was the antidote for western television, the Lipsi step was the East’s answer to Elvis and decadent foreign rock’n’roll. And here it was: a dance invented by a committee, a bizarre hipless camel of a thing.” You can watch a mercifully brief clip of the camel in action here.
Incidentally, does anyone know if the film made from Aksyonov’s book, Мой Младший Брат, is any good? And does anyone know how many pages Звёздный билет takes up in a physical book? On the Kindle I can only see what percentage of the text I’ve read, not how many pages there are, and I’m curious.