MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY.

I’m reading Понедельник начинается в субботу (Monday Begins on Saturday, Wikipedia), by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and I’m enjoying it as much as I did their earlier novels (see here and here). So far it’s funny rather than deep/tragic like the others (I’ve just started the second of the three sections), but what continues to amaze me is the literariness of it. American sf of the sixties had quite a few literary references, but it seems to me they tended to be more show-offy: “Look, I’m putting in an allusion to Hegel ["The Only Thing We Learn," by C. M. Kornbluth] or an obscure quote from Joyce [James Blish, A Case of Conscience]!” With the Strugatsky brothers, I get the sense that, like every other Russian author, they’re drawing effortlessly on the entire history of their literature, which they expect their audience to be as familiar with as they are. When the protagonist arrives at the izba on chicken legs in the first section, the passage is chock-full of allusions to Pushkin’s “Ruslan and Lyudmila”; the very first line, “Я приближался к месту моего назначения” [I was approaching the place of my appointment], is a direct quote from Pushkin’s “The Captain’s Daughter,” and expected to be recognized as such; there are quotes from and allusions to Gogol, Lermontov, Lev Tolstoy, A. N. Tolstoy, A. K. Tolstoy, and many others, not to mention foreign writers like Ueda Akinari (very moving if you’ve seen Ugetsu, which contains the referenced scene), the Bhagavad Gita, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, etc. It doesn’t feel like showing off because that’s what all Russian literature is like (as discussed so well by Mikhail Gronas—see this post), which is one reason I enjoy it so much. Of course all literature includes references to other literature, but that’s especially true of Russian, and the more of it I read the more I enjoy reading it.
Of course, I don’t get all the allusions on my own, which is why I’m glad to have found this page, which annotates the book (and is part of a site that does the same for all the Strugatskys’ work). The internet: long may it prosper!

Comments

  1. I agree, it is an joyously entertaining book! Did you know that the Strugatsky site you linked to is their “official” site and you can actually submut questions to Boris Strugatsky in real-time at this Off-Line Interview page http://www.rusf.ru/abs/int.htm? So if you need a clarification, you can get it straight from the author!

  2. I’m glad to have found this page
    yes, the site is very good. The name of the site lyudeny is invented by Strugatskis and is derived from люди – lyudi – people, not as tribe, ethnicity, but as a collective noun for individuals. It is from the last book in the Max Kammerer trilogy.
    To add, there are not only literary references but many are to real figures in Soviet science, e.g professor Vybegailo is said to be based on the bête-noir of genetics Lysenko.

  3. Yay, finally! As much as I enjoy the rest of Strugatski’s work, I absolutely love ПНвС. My parents gave me the Slovak translation for Christmas 1988. My first reaction upon trying to read it was “WTF is this shit”, but then I got older and a bit smarter (cca. 1993) and reading ПНвС became an annual tradition.
    what continues to amaze me is the literariness of it
    I – the literary philistine that I am – think that this is the whole point of the first section. The new world that Sasha Privalov enters is strange and confusing, yet there is something oddly familiar about it and this is exactly how the reader should react: “WTF is this … Wait, this sounds familiar…” This stands in sharp contrast to section 2 where the reader cries bitter tears of recognition on every page.

  4. This book is also a wonderful response to CP Snow’s 1959 lecture The Two Cultures on the split between humanities and sciences. Strugatskis themselves are an answer, one a mathematician and the other an orientalist, a professional translator of Japanese literature.

  5. professor Vybegailo is said to be based on the bête-noir of genetics Lysenko.
    I figured that out all my myself! And I love “Выбегалло забегалло?”

  6. Glad you enjoy it; definitely a book which promises a lot of fun to a language and literature aficionado :)
    So far it’s funny rather than deep/tragic like the others
    which is probably not surprising given its genre, self-defined in the subtitle as “a fairy-tale for the underage scholars”
    The bizarre collection of quotes in the opening chapter since it’s about a … let’s say a literature professor descending into senility :) The quotations felt totally credible to those “underage scholars” even through they couldn’t possibly recognize the sources … since they recognized the character :) One possibility is that the authors simply couldn’t use made-up quotes because they had to explain every obscure sentence to the censors, or at least to prove that these aren’t some sneaky anti-government codephrases.
    So with a great amusement, and with sincere gratitude for your help, I discovered that it was Horacio whom I recently quoted about a-touch-too-rare lamb chops at a dinner table:
    и бледныя обе
    Страшны были на вид. Тут начали землю ногтями
    Обе рыть и чернаго рвать зубами ягненка
    :)

  7. PS: there is a second burst of fiction quotes closer to the end of the book, when the authors take a broad aim at the sci-fi genre at large. These quotes aren’t deep or philosophic, but just as bemusing. I’m sure you will come across that segment soon, Language, so no spoilers for now :)
    But I can’t resist mentioning another tidbit, which touches on an older discussion in this blog, in a “poison minerals” thread (and also on this LH thread about sticks and dogs and mistranslations). The common thread is Ivan Efremov, the mentorly founding father of Soviet scifi and a scientist (geologist and paelontologist) by trade. The Strugatsky’s molded Sasha Privalov’s benevolent mentor after Efremov (the character is one of least magically endowed in this book, and of the most warmly painted ones … but few readers remember this departmental chair of Linear Happiness as vividly as the other, more colorful researchers and admins of the Institute)
    Lastly, how do you read into A- and U- prefixes of Janus the Two-faced? Admin/Researcher acronyms? Or “Whatever”/”Wow” exclamations?

  8. “When the protagonist arrives at the izba on chicken legs in the first section, the passage is chock-full of allusions to Pushkin’s “Ruslan and Lyudmila”; the very first line, “Я приближался к месту моего назначения” [I was approaching the place of my appointment], is a direct quote from Pushkin’s “The Captain’s Daughter,” and expected to be recognized as such; there are quotes from and allusions to Gogol, Lermontov, Lev Tolstoy, A. N. Tolstoy, A. K. Tolstoy, and many others, not to mention foreign writers like Ueda Akinari (very moving if you’ve seen Ugetsu, which contains the referenced scene), the Bhagavad Gita, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, etc. It doesn’t feel like showing off because that’s what all Russian literature is like (as discussed so well by Mikhail Gronas—see this post), which is one reason I enjoy it so much. Of course all literature includes references to other literature, but that’s especially true of Russian, and the more of it I read the more I enjoy reading it.
    Of course, I don’t get all the allusions on my own, which is why I’m glad to have found this page, which annotates the book (and is part of a site that does the same for all the Strugatskys’ work).”
    This is for the first time I have encountered ‘The Bhagvad Gita’ listed along with other writers. I have not seen until now, a book name being used with writers. Do we use it especially when we know only one or two significant works of author or say, when a work is better known than the writer ( Here Krishna/Ved-Vyasa)?

  9. Anand: We use the title when the (human) authors of a book are not known. Claims that certain books are written by gods have no credibility outside the relevant religions, whereas the titles are neutral.

  10. It was sloppy writing on my part, though; obviously the Bhagavad Gita is not a “foreign writer.” I should have written “not to mention foreign writers like Ueda Akinari [etc.] and works like the Bhagavad Gita.”

  11. @John Cowan: Thanks. This teaches me two things:
    1.The way the name of a work can be used, along with names of authors of other works when the name of the author of the work is not very clear.
    2. Ved-Vyasa is not unanimously considered to be the author of the work in question. I had no doubt about the author in my mind and Ved Vyasa was a historical person, not a God as far as I know.

  12. @ John Cowan: My apologies if this comment looks like an extra. Both Ved-Vyasa and Krishna are considered to be avtaras of Vishnu in Hinduism, but Ved Vyasa is generally considered to be the author of the epic Mahabharata as well as Bhagvad Gita ( a part of Mahabharata). This is to make clear that my last comment was wrong in the sense that Ved Vyasa was also an avatar like Krishna but only with a lesser degree of perfection.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Listing the name of a work rather than the author(s) is also done for instance with large reference works such as the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), which involve multiple collaborators, too numerous to mention.

  14. Indeed, even the editors of the OED are getting to be too numerous to mention: Coleridge (plan), Furnivall (reading program), Murray (reading program, OED1 letters A-D, H-K, O-P, T), Bradley (OED1 letters E-G, L-M, S-Sh, St, W-We), Craigie (OED1 letters N, Q-R, Si-Sq, U-V, Wo-Wy, First Supplement), Onions (OED1 letters Su-Sz, Wh-Wo, X-Z, First Supplement), Burchfield (Second Supplement), Weiner (OED2), Simpson (OED2, OED3).

  15. Barry Brenesal says:

    A wonderful book that I first read back in the 1970s, if I recall correctly. I got quite a few of the literary references you mention during that time, but it really needs a modern English edition that endnotes all the puns and references.

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