Review copies have been piling up, and since other calls on my time have prevented me from immersing myself in any of them enough to do it justice, I’ve decided to do a roundup giving at least a brief description of each in time for people thinking about gifts for the holiday season (approaching with terrifying speed) to see if any of them sound appealing. I’ll start with a few Russia-related ones:

1) The Russian’s World: Life and Language, Fourth Edition, by Genevra Gerhart with Eloise M. Boyle. A couple of years ago I reviewed an earlier edition of this book; now Slavica has sent me the brand-new 2012 edition. Go read the earlier post, and all I need say is that it’s updated (including nice new photos) and its endpapers are now graced with two of the most beautiful maps I’ve seen of Russia, one political-administrative and one physical. If you know someone studying Russian, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Actually, while I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to tip my hat to Slavica for all the great books they’ve published over the years; just glancing up at my shelves I see Held’s Beginning Hittite, Hancock’s Handbook of Vlax Romani, Messing’s Greek Romany Glossary, Aronson’s Georgian: A Reading Grammar, Huld’s Basic Albanian Etymologies, Non-Slavic Languages of the USSR, and several volumes of Folia Slavica. While other publishers go haring after the quick buck and the lowest common denominator, these guys keep putting out gems. You go, Slavica!

2) It’s No Good: poems / essays / actions, by Kirill Medvedev. Keith Gessen, of n + 1 (see this 2011 post), sounded quite excited to be publishing this book when he sent me a galley copy (the publication date is next month), and I can see why—Medvedev reminds me of the angry young men of a century ago, all the acmeists/futurists/dadaists who were fed up with business as usual and trying to shake the complacent out of their complacency. I can see him at the Stray Dog in Petersburg alongside Gumilyov, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, and Mandelstam. He’s pissed off about the literary situation, in Russia and elsewhere, and is taking some drastic action (like renouncing copyright and withdrawing from literary life) in an attempt to do something about it. You can learn something about him (and watch videos of him reading at Dickinson College) here and read a couple of translations (by Gessen) here; if you like what you see, you know where to find more. I guarantee you he’s not boring.

3) The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems, by Polina Barskova. I wrote about Barskova here; she’s a damned impressive poet, and this is your chance to read her in English, translated by Boris Dralyuk (see this post) and David Stromberg. You can read a couple of excerpts here, and see a clip of her reading here.


  1. I really dig Kirill Medvedev. I need to find more marxist poets.

  2. The first casualty of war is Poland.
    Is that poem?

  3. Georgian: A Reading Grammar
    Je plussoie.

  4. I’ve worked through it twice now, and soon it will be time to give it another go. (Though maybe I should get this to accompany Aronson, since it focuses on the spoken language and comes with CDs.)

  5. I see there’s “moinsoyer” to match. Wiktionnaire sez about “plussoyer”: Vient de l’habitude, sur les forums en réseau, d’écrire « +1 » pour dire « j’ajoute ma voix, je suis d’accord » ou « je souscris à vos propos »

  6. Slavica is wonderful, and Slavica may now be elsewhere, but Slavica is Charles Gribble. ‘The Russian’s World’ is great (I must get it!) – but see ‘The Russian Context’ (Boyle & Gerhardt, Slavica, 2002) too.

  7. I’m way ahead of you. (I really should write more about that book.)

  8. I’ve got Kiziria’s Beginner’s Georgian. It’s probably the best introductory textbook on the language in English (not that there’s a huge amount of competition). Might be a bit basic for you if you’ve worked through Aronson twice, but what’s there is pretty well done. I could have used more drills; the exercises after each chapter are a little perfunctory. (And I could have used more in general – there’s quite a lot of verb forms left untouched at the end – but then you have Aronson for that. And I have heard Kiziria’s now writing a textbook on the verbal system.)
    I caught a few errors, though – you know, things one can see are inconsistent even without knowing anything of the language beyond what’s in the book. Mostly pretty minor, though one table of demonstratives was reversed in a way that could confuse someone. I guess it’s hard to find proofreaders who read Georgian.
    I seem to have mostly made criticisms above, but I do still recommend the book to any English-speaker who wants to teach themselves Georgian.

  9. I thought плюсую was peculiarly Russian but now it looks pan-Continental. We still have the uniquely Russian первонах.

  10. For those deprived of the great and mighty Russian language: первонах [pervonákh] is a term applied (generally in an unfriendly way) to people who feel compelled to post “Первый нах!” [Pervyi nakh], roughly ‘fuckin’ first!’ (English-speaking morons simply post “First!”) in comment threads if they think the fates favor them to the extent that their comment will appear before anyone else’s. An interesting coincidence: in Armenian, nakh means ‘first.’ (In Russian, it’s short for the extremely unprintable ná khui.)

  11. Известна пословица «семеро первонахов теребят Ф5» — кнопка F5 во многих браузерах используется для обновления страницы. (
    Is that a reference to the Seven against Thebes?

  12. I am so glad this amazing blog still exists and is still going strong. Would you recommend The Russian’s World for someone who has not yet started learning Russian, but is marrying into a Russian family?

  13. I can’t think of a better book for that situation!

  14. “Is that a reference to the Seven against Thebes?”
    Probably a reference to Russian sayings such as Семеро одного не ждут, У семи нянек дитя без глазу, Семь раз примерь – один отрежь, Семеро с ложкой – один с сошкой, and so on. (Seven don’t wait for one; Seven nannies have a one-eyed baby; Measure seven times, cut once; Seven with a spoon, one with a plow.)

  15. Thanks Alexei K.!

  16. the most funny one is “odnim makhom semerykh ubivakhom” – with one hit to kill seven (flies)
    that’s about multitasking i guess 🙂

  17. ditya bez glazu means not a baby with one eye, but that seven nannies don’t look after a baby properly, leave it without good care, so bez glazu means bez nadsmotra or something

  18. prismotra i mean

  19. Read: The folktale “Seven At One Blow”, otherwise “The Brave Little Tailor”, is well-known in the West. Here’s a version from Wikipedia:
    A tailor is preparing to eat some jam, but when flies settle on it, he kills seven of them with one blow. He makes a belt describing the deed, “Seven at one blow”. Inspired, he sets out into the world to seek his fortune. The tailor meets a giant, who assumes that “Seven at one blow” refers to seven men. The giant challenges the tailor. When the giant squeezes water from a boulder, the tailor squeezes water (or whey) from cheese. The giant throws a rock far into the air, and it eventually lands. The tailor counters the feat by releasing a bird that flies away; the giant believes the small bird is a “rock” which is thrown so far that it never lands. The giant asks the tailor to help carry a tree. The tailor directs the giant to carry the trunk, while the tailor will carry the branches. Instead, the tailor climbs on, so the giant carries him as well.
    The giant brings the tailor to the giant’s home, where other giants live as well. During the night, the giant attempts to kill the man. However, the tailor, having found the bed too large, sleeps in the corner. On seeing him still alive, the other giants flee, never to be seen again.
    The tailor enters the royal service, but the other soldiers are afraid that he will lose his temper someday, and then seven of them might die with every blow. They tell the king that either the tailor leaves military service, or they will. Afraid of being killed for sending him away, the king instead sends the tailor to defeat two giants, offering him half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. By throwing rocks at the two giants while they sleep, the tailor provokes the pair into fighting each other. The king then sends him after a unicorn, but the tailor traps it by standing before a tree, so that when the unicorn charges, he steps aside and it drives its horn into the trunk. The king subsequently sends him after a wild boar, but the tailor traps it in a chapel.
    With that, the king marries him to his daughter. His wife hears him talking in his sleep and realizes that he is merely a tailor. The king promises to have him carried off. A squire warns the tailor, who pretends to be asleep and calls out that he has done all these deeds and is not afraid of the men behind the door. Terrified, they leave, and the king does not try again.

  20. read: “bez glazu means bez nadsmotra or something” is probably a late interpretation. Compare the Polish saying “Gdzie cztery nianie, tam dziecko bez nosa” – “where there are four nannies, the baby is without a nose.” There are similar Ukrainian and Belarusan sayings, with the child lacking the head or nose or a limb.

  21. marie-lucie says

    JC, that’s more or less how I remember reading the story of Le vaillant petit tailleur (no doubt a translation from Grimm).
    The “little tailor” is indeed physically tiny, which is why he is so proud of having killed the seven flies. His small size makes his victory over giants and his intimidation of the soldiers and the king inexplicable to them: he seems to have magical powers, rather than just human cleverness.

  22. the giant believes the small bird is a “rock”
    I find this hard to believe.
    In the end the tailor contracts food poisoning and falls under a bus.

  23. marie-lucie says

    AJP, giants are always stupid, little people are the clever ones. So it is in folklore.

  24. oh i see, i didn’t know about the other similar proverbs, interesting
    nobody told me of course it means this or that, just ditya bez glazu i interpreted bez prismotra from other sayings like “…glaz da glaz nujen” one needs eye and eye or maybe eyeing and eyeing how it would sound in english, meaning one needs to be looked after constantly

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