Tendryakov’s Trial.

Having read Astafyev’s 1960 novella Звездопад [Meteor shower — not, as David Gillespie renders it, “Starfall,” even though звезда is ‘star’ and пад- is the ‘fall’ root!] and enjoyed it, I looked around to see what else was published around then; Vladimir Tendryakov’s “Тройка, семерка, туз” [Three, seven, ace] came out the same year, and I remembered enjoying that back in 2011, so I thought I’d read the novella he published the following year, Суд [The trial] even though I’d seen it described as criticizing flaws in the Soviet legal system — what do I care about flaws in the Soviet legal system? But I decided to trust the writer, not the description, and I’m glad I did, because as soon as I read the first page I realized how stupid and misguided the description was (oh, how I hate sociological criticism!).

The first third of the hundred-page story is taken up with a bear hunt, and it’s perhaps the most gripping hunting story I’ve ever read — I was consistently wrong about where it was going, and when tragedy struck it came from a completely unexpected direction (even though the ground had been prepared earlier). I won’t soon forget that ravine, that bog, that shaky wooden footbridge; it’s as powerful as the best stories of men in nature, Jack London, say, or Hemingway. And then the consequences begin, leading to the final trial. Now, maybe Tendryakov actually did want to criticize the Soviet legal system, just as Dostoevsky wanted to criticize the tsarist legal system in The Brothers Karamazov; I neither know nor care. What matters in the story is the Dostoevskyan exploration of conscience that ensues; every character is presented convincingly, especially the experienced hunter at the center of events, Semyon Teterin, who had reluctantly agreed to take a diligent amateur and a drunken wannabe along with him on his nighttime expedition. It’s wonderfully written, from fine nature descriptions to a long passage about how in the drive to improve people’s lives it’s easy to take shortcuts and ignore truth; a couple of nice pithy bits: “В старину говорили: на роду написано. Пустое! Просто жизнь коленца выкидывает” [In the old days they used to say it was fate. Nonsense! It’s just life playing little tricks] and “Доброта, как и озлобление, бывает заразительной” [Kindness, like malice, can be infectious]. And of course there are the kind of interesting specialized vocabulary I love to run into, like согра [sogra] ‘swampy forested depression’ (of unclear origin; see Vasmer). It’s been translated twice, by Alex Miller as “The Trial” and by Olive Stevens as “Justice,” and it would be well worth your while to seek out one of those from your friendly local library. (If you read Russian, of course, just follow the link above.) There was a movie made from it in 1962; if anyone knows if it’s well done, do speak up.

For those who don’t care about Tendryakov but like music, I’ve got you covered; Martin Schwartz, an Iranianist who also happens to be an expert on Greek urban vernacular music (he put together one of my favorite CD compilations, Greek-Oriental Rebetica: Songs and Dances In The Asia Minor Style – The Golden Years: 1911-1937, from his own collection of 78s, with superb liner notes, texts, and translations), sent me a link to Radio Rebetiko, which not only plays the songs but provides the texts (in Greek), and Adam Neely explains “The Girl from Ipanema” in a very informative half-hour video (though I wish he pronounced Brazilian Portuguese better — he says “IpanEEma” and “GHilberto” and seems to think the ‘girl’ of the title is garrota rather than garota).


  1. “khozyain” (‘master’) as an euphemism for a bear is native Siberian, I think.

    But the story is set somewhere in the north of European Russia.

    Lack of ocean sure helps spread of colonial expressions in the mother country.

  2. I first heard Garota de Ipanema when I was about twenty. It was probably the canonical version with Astrud and João Gilberto but almost at once I heard a live version as well, which sounded like a miracle. Especially the bridge, yes. It was obviously a brilliantly crafted little piece of music but it’s even more sophisticated than I realized then.

    By the way, the voice announcing section titles sounds like a Spanish speaker switching impromptu to Portuguese. And Adam also mispronounces choro. (OK, it was probably pronounced with a Spanich ch a long time ago.) You can hear the word a lot in older Brazilian music – if not exactly chôro, then chóro “I weep” or some other verb form.

  3. I remember hearing a lot of different pronunciations of “Ipanema” when I was in Rio. Some of that was undoubtedly because a lot of the people I talked with were expatriates from the former Soviet bloc, but I think that even among the native Brazilians, there was little consistency in how they said the name of that beach.

  4. even among the native Brazilians, there was little consistency in how they said the name of that beach.

    Interesting, and if Neely had pronounced everything else well I’d have been willing to assume it was a local variant, but as it is, Occam says it’s just another screw-up.

  5. I watched the Neely video at lunchtime today! It was fascinating.

    He’s very good although he really is talking to musicians. Often – as here – a bit too technical for me. Which is better than being condescended to.

    But I was surprised at his hard G in Gilberto, esp since he did okay with João.

    I’m going to join that streaming service he’s shilling – it sounds worth the fifteen bucks and I’m happy to send him a dollar or two.

  6. By the way, if anyone wants to hear the 1962 live version from the Au Bon Gourmet (the very first time Girl From Ipanema was ever played in public; he mentions it at the end of the video) here it is. I wish I knew Portuguese better, so I could understand what the audience was laughing at in the intro.

  7. Lars Mathiesen says

    Um encontro no Au bon gourmet — an encounter at the At the good foodlover. Never mind the The New York Times, here we get two Romance versions of fused proposition and article. (At a guess, VL in illũ ad illũ vel sim).

    Also the Neely thing is good, I have enough piano and choral experience to follow along. I signed up for curiositystream too.

  8. I’ve found it transcribed at different places although I don’t hear it exactly the same as the Wikipedia transcription goes. Google “The disc that no one reviewed” for Daniella Thompson’s review of this recording.

    Here’s Thompson’s transcript with one or two changes. The voices are the “santissima trindada da bossa nova”: João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, and Vinicius de Moraes. Gilberto starts with a variation on Desafinado:

    JG: Tom, e se você fizesse agora uma canção que possa nos dizer, conta(r) ao que é o amor… (Tom, if you now composed a song that would tell us what love is…)

    ACJ: Olhe, Joãozinho, eu não saberia sem Vinicius pra fazer a poesia. (Listen, Joãozinho (diminutive of João), I couldn’t without Vinicius to write the lyrics.)

    VdM: Para essa canção se realisar quem dera o João para cantar. (For that song to come true, I wish João would sing it.)

    JG: Ah, mas quem sou eu, que eu sou mais vocês. Melhor se nós cantássemos os três. (Ah but what am I? because I’m with you guys. Better if we sung it all three of us.)

  9. Obrigado!

  10. John Cowan says

    Obrigado for the obbligato, in fact.

  11. (“Sang,” not “sung,” in the last line of my previous comment.)

    @John Cowan: “Obrigado for the obbligato, in fact.” If obbligato means countermelody that should not be omitted, Adam does a good job of restoring Jobim’s obbligato to its rightful place but also makes me wonder how wise it is to learn complex music from a homophonic songbook. It’s like counterpoint is obsolete. Why not listen to original recordings and get the sheet music of a piano arrangement by the composer himself?

    When Darius Milhaud served at the French embassy in Rio in 1917-18, he didn’t just buy the sheet music for various “maxixes and tangos” but would also go listen to Ernesto Nazareth play his pieces at the Odeon movie theater. The trick was to figure out certain rhythmical subtleties, “ce petit rien si typiquement brésilien.”

  12. Why not listen to original recordings and get the sheet music of a piano arrangement by the composer himself?

    Good question. I can see the usefulness of a fake book for a quick-and-dirty performance, but if you’re really going to make a song part of your repertoire or record it for posterity, why wouldn’t you want to do a better job?

  13. I find myself wanting to cut David Gillespie (whoever he might be or have been) a little slack for “Starfall.” Though not a genuine English word, it’s evocative and enticing. “Meteor Shower,” on the other hand, just sounds boring and not even remotely like anything I’d ever pick up in a bookshop.

  14. He wrote the article on Astafyev in the usually reliable Reference Guide to Russian Literature. A scholar is supposed to provide actual translations, not evocative poetic nonwords. If one were translating the story with a view to attracting readers, sure, jazz it up all you like.

  15. Fair enough. In an academic context, indeed, a hard “Nyet.”

    I’d assumed he was actually trying to sell the novella in translation.

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