Today I went to Brighton Beach for the first time in months to pick up a copy of Dmitrii Bykov’s new novel Orfografiya (publisher’s page, in Russian). As soon as I read the review by Nikita Eliseev, I knew I had to have it; not only is it a historical novel about a period I’m fascinated by (the Russian Revolution and civil war), it focuses on the orthographic reform of 1918! (In the alternative history of the novel, the Bolsheviks abolish orthography rather than reforming it.) Indeed, the main character’s name is Yat’, the name of a prerevolutionary letter that was eliminated by the reform (and replaced by e). Other main characters are writers of the time, like Gorkii and Khodasevich. OK, it’s almost 700 pages long and the author calls it an “opera in three acts,” which in other circumstances would put me off, but this I can’t resist.


  1. I remember seeing something about this a little while ago. Lemme know if it’s any good!

  2. I may regret asking: how do you abolish orthography?

  3. Abolish (I should have said) the rules of orthography; ie, spell as you like. (An unlikely attitude for Bolsheviks, I grant you, but perhaps in the world of the novel spelling rules are seen as a bourgeois preoccupation. I haven’t started it yet.)

  4. How did this work out? And is it (too much to hope, I’m sure) available in English?

  5. I discussed the novel in several posts; see the links in the first line here. And no, I don’t think it’s been translated, though with the apparent boom market in translations from Russian there’s reason to hope.

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