Thanks to a Facebook post by Steven Lubman, I have discovered the excellent site Полка (polka.academy), which has nothing to do with dancing (‘polka’ in Russian is полька, with a palatalized l) — полка is the Russian word for ‘shelf,’ in this case ‘bookshelf,’ and when you go to the site you are confronted with a stylized row of Russian book spines and one face forward (at the moment it’s showing me Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk, which is a good choice). If you click on the “books” link, you see the heading Главные произведения русской литературы, выбранные экспертами «Полки» [The main works of Russian literature, chosen by the experts of “Polka”], followed by a list in order of rating (the top one is Hero of Our Time, followed by Anna Karenina). You can have them listed chronologically, by title, or by author, and there’s a search box; as I wrote on FB:

I searched on Nabokov and was surprised to see they included Lolita, which wasn’t written in Russian! But I’m certainly not going to quarrel with that. The search function doesn’t work too well (when I searched on Gazdanov, I got only Призрак Александра Вольфа [The Spectre of Alexander Wolf], but then elsewhere I ran into my beloved Вечер у Клэр [An Evening with Claire]), but somehow that seems fitting for Russian literature. Very much looking forward to exploring this.

There are discussions (by the experts) of each book included. Highly recommended for anyone who reads Russian.


  1. I wasn’t aware that the polka was an Argentine dance.

  2. Lolita certainly was written in Russian, although a book with the same title, plot, and theme was written in English by the same author first. After all, nobody says that Malone dies is not an English novel, or that Nancy Huston’s books exist only in English or French depending on which language they were first written in. In looking the matter up in WP, I found an English translation of Nabokov’s Postscript to the Russian version, including a Translator’s Note explaining the minor discrepancies between the English and Russian versions. Here’s a particularly poignant bit from Nabokov:

    Scholarly scruples prompted me to retain the last paragraph of the American afterword in the Russian text, in spite of the fact that it can only confound the Russian reader who does not remember, of didn’t understand, or never even read “V. Sirin’s” books, published in Europe in the twenties and thirties. I so fervently stress to my American readers the superiority of my Russian style over my English that some Slavists might really think that my translation of Lolita is a hundred times better than the original, but the rattle of my rusty Russian strings only nauseates me now. The history of this translation is a history of disillusionment. Alas, that ‘wondrous Russian tongue’ that, it seemed to me, was waiting for me somewhere, was flowering like a faithful springtime behind a tightly locked gate whose key I had held in safekeeping for so many years, proved to be nonexistent, and there is nothing behind the gate but charred stumps and a hopeless autumnal distance, and the key in my hand is more like a skeleton key.

  3. I wasn’t aware that the polka was an Argentine dance.

    D’oh! Obviously I somehow got the “polka” and “tango” wires momentarily crossed in my brain. Thanks, fixed!

    Lolita certainly was written in Russian, although a book with the same title, plot, and theme was written in English by the same author first.

    Good point.

  4. I thought you were trolling me with the reference to Argentine polka, LH. It’s actually pretty big there (in the countryside rather than in the capital city like tango), and there are several distinct regional styles, as well as even more variation in Paraguay and Uruguay. “Sonia”, a 1959 Siberian-themed composition of Enrique Rodriguez, may be the best Porteño polka-related cover of what was, a generation earlier, Gardel’s “balada rusa”

  5. Ha! My brain-fart is vindicated!

  6. Oh, really, my link worked? Enjoy the dark ballade, and while we are at that: the lyrics of the song have changed almost completely in 30 years since Carlos Gardel performed it. Only “¡Sonia! ¡Sonia! Tus cabellos negros…” line remained the same. But the new lyrics aren’t transcribed anywhere. Could a kind Spanish-speaking soul please help me decipher what exactly happened in the snowy plains of Siberia in this clip? Thank you!

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