The Language of Charms.

From the end of chapter 6 of Yuri Rytkheu’s Сон в начале тумана, translated by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse as A Dream in Polar Fog (see my complaint about her version here):

Странно, те заклинания, которые до сих пор знал Орво, чаще всего были набором непонятных слов, похожих то на корякские, то на эскимосские и даже на эвенские… Обычный человек не мог понимать их, даже если эти заклинания принадлежали ему и были получены в полную собственность от какого-нибудь шамана. А тут шаманка говорит обыкновенными словами […]

Strange — the charms that Orvo had known up to now were mostly a collection of incomprehensible words, sometimes like Koryak, sometimes like Eskimo or even like Even… An ordinary person couldn’t understand them, even if the charms belonged to him and had been received as personal property from some shaman. But this shaman was speaking in ordinary [Chukchi] words […]

Incidentally, Rytkheu tells a good tale; I had thought it might be one of those ethnographic novels whose primary purpose is to introduce the reader to the life of some far-off people, with endless descriptions of how they build their dwellings and dress their meat, but I’m caught up in the story and will definitely finish it.


  1. even like Even…

    “In Rytkheu’s novel A Dream in Polar Fog, the author juxtaposes the name of the Even language with the lowercase homograph ‘even’ to implicitly link the two words together and highlight how, for the Western mind, the Even language itself seems not just inherently surprising, but also improbable and even impossible. In a manner of speaking, one might say not only that Even can’t even, but also that English can’t Even. This astute word choice on Rytkheu’s part alludes and draws attention to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by suggesting that English speakers cannot conceive of other languages existing, as well as to Noted Literary Theorist’s view that […]”

  2. I thought for a minute you were actually quoting someone, and I was ready to despair!

  3. (I admit I enjoyed writing “even like Even.”)

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