Mysteries of Manaraga.

Having finished Vladimir Sorokin’s 2017 novel Манарага [Manaraga], I find I don’t have much to say about it except that it’s enjoyable late Sorokin, focusing on a society of chefs who illegally prepare meals for rich clients by cooking over flames fueled by first-edition books and set in a mid-21st-century world that is more or less that of Day of the Oprichnik (LH). It takes the form of a diary written by the protagonist Geza, who specializes in Russian literature and winds up being sent on a mission to Mount Manaraga in the northern Urals; it’s full of the usual Sorokin tricks, like incorporated parodies and passages of nonsense; and towards the end I got whiffs of both Olesha’s Envy (LH) and Zamyatin’s We (LH). For more, I refer you to Lizok’s excellent post (which originally inspired me to add the novel to my reading list). Here I want to focus on a single paragraph, consisting entirely of the names of books. The context is one of the “book’n’grill” meals (that phrase is always in English in the original Russian text), served by sixty-nine chefs to a large wedding party; Sorokin lists all of the “logs” they use, “mainly 20th-century detective and horror novels” [в основном детективы и хоррор XX века], and here is my version using original languages (except for the Russian ones):

The Godfather, Der Richter und sein Henker, And Then There Were None, Rebecca, Dead Cert, Nothing Lasts Forever (Die Hard), The Executioners (Cape Fear), Gorky Park, Misery, Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Shining, Postmortem, Naked Lunch, Le Chien jaune, The Hellbound Heart (Hellraiser), Eye of the Needle, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, A Time to Kill, The Sea-Wolf, The Exorcist, The Moonstone, Children of the Corn, The Maltese Falcon, Azazel, Smiley’s People, Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, “The Birds,” The Sound and the Fury, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Death Under Sail, The She-Wolf [Druon’s La Louve de France? Jerzy Gierałtowski’s Wadera?], La Reine Margot, Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders), Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Le mystère de la chambre jaune, Red Harvest, Camera Obscura (Laughter in the Dark), Rosemary’s Baby, The Cry of the Owl, “Zigzags of Treachery,” The Silence of the Lambs, Our Man in Havana, Airport, Fletch, The English Patient, The Case of the Terrified Typist, 金閣寺 (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion), The First Circle, In the Heat of the Night, When the Sleeper Wakes, La Veuve Couderc, Crime and Punishment, Fletch, Too, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, Visages cachés, The Jackal [The Day of the Jackal?], Piège pour Cendrillon, The Vampire Chronicles, Being and Time, They Thirst, The Trial, The Doorbell Rang, An American Tragedy, The Sign of the Four, Devil in a Blue Dress, In Cold Blood, and Dead Souls.

The Russian original:

“Крестный отец”, “Судья и палач”, “Десять негритят”, “Ребекка”, “Фаворит”, “Умри тяжело”, “Мыс страха”, “Парк Горького”, “Мизери”, “Последний выход в Бруклин”, “Сияние”, “Вскрытие показало”, “Ланч обнаженных”, “Желтый пес”, “Восставший из ада”, “Игольное ушко”, “Шпион, пришедший с холода”, “Пора убивать”, “Морской волк”, “Изгоняющий дьявола”, “Лунный камень”, “Дети кукурузы”, “Мальтийский сокол”, “Азазель”, “Команда Смайли”, “Признание авантюриста Феликса Круля”, “Птицы”, “Шум и ярость”, “Три мушкетера”, “Смерть под парусом”, “Волчица”, “Королева Марго”, “Купе смертников”, “Лифт на эшафот”, “Собака Баскервилей”, “Убийство Роджера Экройда”, “Тайна желтой комнаты”, “Кровавая жатва”, “Камера обскура”, “Ребенок Розмари”, “Крик совы”, “Зигзаги подлости”, “Молчание ягнят”, “Наш человек в Гаване”, “Аэропорт”, “Флетч”, “Английский пациент”, “Дело перепуганной машинистки”, “Золотой храм”, “В круге первом”, “Душной ночью в Каролине”, “Когда спящий проснулся”, “Вдова Кудер”, “Преступление и наказание”, “Покойник из Найроби”, “Приключения Калеба Вильямса”, “Скрытые лица”, “Шакал”, “Ловушка для Золушки”, “Вампирские хроники”, “Бытие и время”, “Они жаждут”, “Процесс”, “Звонок в дверь”, “Американская трагедия”, “Знак четырех”, “Дьявол в синем”, “Хладнокровное убийство” и “Мертвые души”.

I’ve linked a few that I think might cause difficulties for the non-specialist reader (including the two by Sébastien Japrisot, who I’d never heard of); I was intrigued by the inclusion of two Fletch novels, and of course amused by ringers like Being and Time and Dead Souls, and I hope that my list will be of some use to whoever translates the novel. I find it odd that there are two short stories (the items in quotes), but Sorokin was probably thinking of the famous movie made from the first and the Russian anthology of Hammett stories using the title of the second. But I want to direct your attention to the two items I’ve bolded. There are several books or novellas called Волчица, The She-Wolf, or She Wolf, but none of them are obviously what Sorokin might have had in mind; as for “Шакал,” I had assumed it was Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, but that is День Шакала in Russian, and Sorokin otherwise is careful about titles, so there may be a Jackal novel I’m not aware of. Any and all thoughts welcome!


  1. What a beautiful mountain!

    Tereshchenko’s Словарь ненецко-русский и русско-ненецкий has the entry “мана : передняя лапа”. Would this be the paw of any animal considered to have a paw? (Dog, lynx, wolverine, hare…)

    As for the other element in the name, Beáta Wagner-Nagy (2016) “175. Nenets” in Volume 5 Word-Formation: An International Handbook of the Languages of Europe, pp. 3197–3209, has the following:

    Adjectives are frequently formed from nouns. An ending with a special meaning is the similative suffix -raxa/-laxa, -rxa, whose meaning is something like ‘being like X’, e.g., mʲaɁ-laxa ‘similar to a tent’ ← mʲaɁ ‘tent’, ńiibʲe-raxa ‘similar to a needle’ ← ńiibʲe ‘needle’. These derived forms are either used attributively or play the role of the predicate, as shown by the following sentence pair.

    (2) ńińeka-n sarmʲika-rxa weńe-ko-da tańa
    brother-GEN.1SG wolf-SIM dog-DIM-3SG exist.3SG
    ‘My brother has a dog which is like a wolf.’
    (Tereŝenko 1956: 159)

    (3) ńińeka-n weńe-ko-da sarmʲika-rxa
    brother-GEN.1SG dog-DIM-3SG wolf-SIM
    ‘My brother’s dog is similar to a wolf.’
    (Tereŝenko 1956: 159)

    The same suffix is used to produce names of colours: num-laxa ‘blue’ ← numɁ ‘sky’, ŋamdeɁ-laxa ‘green’ ← ŋamdeɁ ‘grass’, paďe-raxa ‘yellow, green’ ← paďe ‘gall’, sʲunraxa ‘blue’ ← sʲun ‘vapour’.

  2. What a beautiful mountain!

    Indeed! I was struck first by the fact that the mountain actually existed, and then by its beauty.

    Thanks (as always) for the etymological information; I wonder why it got borrowed as -рага and not -раха?

  3. I knew the mountain fairly well, not the novel. The name first appears in the reports of Ernst Reinhold von Hofmann’s 1847-1849 expedition. Hofmann explains that his guide translated Manaraga as Bear Paw, which totally makes sense. I don’t know any other local toponyms with the same -raha suffix, so it must be toponymically unproductive. Perhaps the tabooed nature of the bear required the use of workarounds / euphemisms?

  4. I wonder why it had The Vampire Chronicles (presumably an omnibus), rather than the better known and more picturesquely named Interview with the Vampire.

  5. Sébastien Japrisot is reasonably well-known in Russia, being translated back in Soviet times. All books on the list are either outright classics or at least what Russians call “на слуху”, something one can be expected to have heard about. I guess, the list aims at a level of respectable banality. The only “she-wolf” title I guess fits within the list is “She-wolf of France” by Maurice Druon, again, popular in Russia since Soviet times. Also would pair up nicely with “La Reine Margot”. On the other hand, why drop the adjective?

  6. PlasticPaddy says
    French title? Or Russian version made from French translation?

  7. The only “she-wolf” title I guess fits within the list is “She-wolf of France” by Maurice Druon, again, popular in Russia since Soviet times. Also would pair up nicely with “La Reine Margot”.

    Thanks, I’ve added it as a possibility!

    French title? Or Russian version made from French translation?

    Good find! I’ve added that as a possibility too.

  8. I was wondering if Nenets мана ‘paw’ was related to Hungarian mancs ‘paw’ (also the name of a rescue dog that worked in Turkey after the 1999 Izmit earthquake), with the -cs being a Hungarian diminutive suffix.

  9. @Brett:

    i wonder if the russian publication/titling history explains it?

    seeing your post, i had a momentary hope that it was chelsea quinn yarbro’s short story collection, not the anne rice at all, but that’s The Saint-Germain Chronicles, leaving his vampirism out of the title.

  10. “Sébastien Japrisot, who I’d never heard of”: you mentioned him in “He Knocked Them Out,” in 2019, as Jean-Baptiste Rossi. “Sébastien Japrisot,” the pen name he used in his mature years, is merely an anagram of “Jean-Baptiste Rossi,” not counting the acute accent. More details in my comment to that post.

  11. Woops! Well, that was over four years ago, and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. But thanks for reminding me of that very interesting thread.

  12. I even wrote several posts in 2019 about Japrisot and the translation error that just wouldn’t go away.

    Movie titles instead of the original novel titles – Die Hard, Cape Fear – what is Sorokin up to here? Also, why “Судья и палач” and not “Судья и его палач”, which would be both standard and correct? No idea.

    The She-Wolf could be the Polish 1982 film, Wilczyca, “dramat psychologiczny z elementami horroru.”

  13. There was a Polish movie, Волчица, which was fairly (but rather niche) popular in USSR.

  14. Yeah, but it’s gotta be a book. Or at least some sort of written material.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Looks quite alpine.

    I wonder why it got borrowed as -рага and not -раха?

    I’m wondering if [ɣ] is involved; the Wikipedia article on Forest Nenets only says “Voicing is not contrastive”, so I can’t rule out that /x/ becomes [ɣ] between vowels…

  16. David Marjanović says

    (…That’s the English Wikipedia article. But the Russian and the French one say even less.)

  17. According to its Polish Wiki page, the 1982 movie Wilczyza is based on the 1977 novel Wadera by Jerzy Gierałtowski. Both words mean “she-wolf” in Polish.

  18. Ah, that’s a possibility then — thanks!

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