I’m about halfway through Sheila Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, a must-read for anyone interested in what life was like for Russians during the thirties, with informative asides on everything from party secrecy (a Communist who violated the secrecy rules in a speech to a factory meeting could be accused of “betraying the party to the working class”) to the campaign for kulturnost’ (a Krokodil cartoon was captioned “How cultured Ivan Stepanovich has become! Now when he curses people out he uses only the polite form [vy]”). But the proofreading isn’t ideal (the Cheliuskin, whose sinking in 1934 inspired a famous rescue effort, is consistently called the “Cheliushkin”), and on page 93 there occurs one of my favorite typos ever:
One of the signs of the times was the revival of Moscow restaurant life in 1934. This followed a four-year hiatus during which restaurants had been open only to foreigners, payment was in hard currency, and the OGPU regarded any Soviet citizens who went there with deep suspicion. Now, all those who could afford it could go to the Metropole Hotel, where “wonderful live starlets swam in a pool right in the centre of the restaurant hall”…
The intended word was sterlets, a sterlet being a small sturgeon that is the source of the finest caviar (and thus has been hunted almost to extinction in Russia). I personally find it ridiculous to use the word sterlet, utterly obscure in English, when in almost all cases (as here) sturgeon will do as well and be immediately comprehensible, but I’m glad it provided the opportunity for this wonderful image.
Update. I’ve just run across “Chelyushkin” (for Chelyuskin) in Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror (page 326 of my 1990 paperback edition). I don’t know if he was the originator of the error, but it’s possible that Fitzgerald picked it up from him.
Speaking of Russia in the 1930s, I just ran across one of those obscure biographies that give you a little bit more of the awful picture. One of my pastimes is looking up information on obscure people so I can fill out their author pages at LibraryThing, especially when I am the only member who owns one of their books (so that nobody else is likely to do so); just now I was doing this for Rudzhero Gilyarevsky, author of my beloved Languages Identification Guide, picked up on my trip to the USSR in 1971 and read ragged (and heavily annotated) since then. I was delighted to discover there was a Russian Wikipedia article on him, which explained his odd name and provided a striking instance of someone clawing their way out of the misery of Stalinist repression. It turns out that his father, Ettore Macchi, was a captain in the Military Attache’s office of the Italian Embassy in Moscow until he was recalled to Italy in 1929, the year Ruggiero was born. His mother, Ekaterina Krylaeva, was a dancer in the Kazan Opera; she was arrested in 1937, presumably for having had a relationship with a foreigner, and sent to the Gulag, where she remained until 1954. Ruggiero Macchi, or in Russified form Rudzhero Makki, was adopted in 1943 by Sergei and Zinaida Gilyarevsky; his adoptive father was a professor in the First Moscow Medical Institute. Thanks to that daring adoption of the offspring of an enemy of the people, doubtless made possible by wartime laxness, Rudzhero was able to go on to study at the Moscow Energy Institute and then Moscow State University, where he took a degree in Spanish philology in 1953 and got a PhD in 1958. Now he’s an Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation, in charge of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Problems in Computer Science in the Office of Scientific Research on Informatics at VINITI; he lectures at the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University, is chief editor of anthologies and of the International Forum on Information, and is a member of the editorial boards of several journals and a member of several scientific councils. I wonder if he thinks about the father he never knew, whose fate after 1929, according to Russian Wikipedia, is unknown?