Swerving Back.

In 2012, I wrote:

For those of you who might be wondering about the progress of my march through Russian literature, it has taken a sudden swerve. I had gotten up through the year 1968 […] when I suddenly decided to reverse course and go back to the beginning of modern Russian literature […]. There were several motives coalescing in this decision, but probably the most basic was a desire to get to Dostoevsky sooner rather than later.

Eight years later, I am reversing course again. Having finished The Brothers Karamazov last November, I spent some time reading early-20th-century novels (Merezhkovsky, Sologub, Bryusov) interspersed with Chekhov stories, but it was starting to feel like homework, and reading the Strugatskys reminded me of the different joys of more recent literature, so I’ve returned to the 1960s and have started on Yury Dombrovsky’s Хранитель древностей (The Keeper of Antiquities), first published in Novy mir in 1964. I love the opening passage, in which the narrator describes arriving in the garden- and poplar-filled streets of Alma Ata in 1933, suddenly changing from the spring thaw of Moscow to the southern summer. Of course, being the kind of reader who insists on knowing the geography involved, I wanted historical maps of the city, and I was thrilled to discover Dennis Keen’s Walking Almaty site (“It’s a project about learning to read a city’s visual landscape”), which has exactly what I wanted, 13 Historic Maps of Verny, Alma-Ata, and Almaty, starting with “Project for a Fort on the Ili River in the Almaty Valley in the Big Kirgiz Horde”, 1854, and ending with “Alma-Ata. Map of Public Transportation” from “some time before 1983”; the “Schematic Plan of Alma-Ata”, 1935-1936 should give me what I need for the novel. Bless you, Dennis, and I wish there were obsessives like you for every city! (A question for Russian-speakers: is the dialect word ростепель, which he uses for that Moscow thaw, an exact synonym of оттепель, or is there some shade of difference?)

After the Dombrovsky, I’ll probably move on to Valentin Kataev’s dream-memoir Святой колодец (The Holy Well, 1966) and its sequel Трава забвенья (The Grass of Oblivion, 1967), and then finally get to the 1970s: Trifonov’s “city novels” (all nice and short), Sinyavsky-Tertz’s Прогулки с Пушкиным [Strolls with Pushkin] and В тени Гоголя [In the Shadow of Gogol] (both 1975), and (from 1976) Rasputin’s Прощание с Матёрой [Farewell to Matyora] and Sokolov’s Школа для дураков [A School for Fools]. But we shall see. I take it one book at a time.

Comments

  1. ростепель

    I looked up Russian national corpus (no personal experience with the word) and all 64 usages (with one sort of borderline case) would be perfectly the same with оттепель, which if anybody keeps count has 941 entries. I have a not very well founded suspicion that though ростепель was used by Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Saltykov-Schedrin, by the second half of the 20th century it moved into derevenschiki lexicon. Which makes the following example funny

    Solzhenitzyn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich: “И пришлось Шухову выбирать: или в ботинках всю зиму навылет, или в валенках, хошь бы и в оттепель, а ботинки отдай.” [And Shukhov had to choose — either wear the boots all the way through the winter, or wear the felt boots, even during a thaw, but then give the boots up.]

    навылет and especially хошь are colloquial, not to say that loosing as many verbs as possible wave in the same direction. Alexander Isayevich lost a chance to demonstrate his “of the people” chops a bit more.

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