In my long march through Russian history and literature, I’ve gotten up to World War Two (and am freshly astonished by Stalin’s pigheaded refusal to believe the Germans were attacking even after months of warnings from all quarters and, on the day itself, reports of cities being bombed and borders overrun). I have thus pulled down from the shelf my volume of Grigory Baklanov, well known for his war novels, and begun his Iyul’ 41 goda (July 1941; Russian text). It’s always a pleasure to be surprised by a writer, and I am having that pleasure now; expecting a well-told tale of the front lines, I’m getting along with it a vivid picture of the repression that preceded the war (he makes you feel exactly what it was like to have a half-deranged man take the stage at a political meeting and have his finger waver in your direction as he’s denouncing “Trotskyists,” or to hear feet tramping up the stairs of your apartment building in the small hours of the morning and wait silently with your wife to find out if they will knock on your door or someone else’s), as well as some very nice writing (“А за окном было уже позднее утро, солнце растопило смолу на стволах сосен, ею сильно пахло в лесном воздухе”: “But beyond the window it was already late morning, the sun was warming the resin on the trunks of the pines, the forest air smelled strongly of it”).
I’m only on the second chapter, but I wanted to pass along this interesting example of pronoun usage in those days. The corps commissar has dropped by the office of the corps commander:
“You’re going to be here?” he asked after a bit [using the familiar ты (ty) 'you']. “Then I’ll go.”
This ты was not an expression of full and friendly intimacy between them. It was rather the customary/expected ты. Otherwise it might have looked as though commander and commissar were not united/unified/indivisible.
- Ты здесь будешь? – спросил он погодя.- Так я поеду.
Это “ты” не было выражением полной душевной близости между ними. Это
было скорее полагавшееся “ты”. Иначе могло выглядеть со стороны, что
командир и комиссар не едины.
(If anyone has suggestions for must-read Russian WWII novels or stories, I’m all ears.)