Sunday, August 03, 2008

A blind spot at which you may poke fun

Alexander Solzhnitsyn, one of the world's literary giants has died.

I will, however, have to take the world's word for it that he is a literary giant. I have a flaw; a fatal flaw when it comes to Russian literature.

*blush* I can't keep up with the names.

I've tried several times to read Russian authors, starting from when I was in my teens. I kept abandoning my attempts, assuring myself in a year or two it would all be different.

It still isn't.

Let's start with the sheer number of characters. Invariably there seem to be millions of them. Add that they all seem to have at least three names, any one of which can be used at any time. Plus nicknames. Plus the entire cast always appear to be interrelated, so many of the names are similar. Just can't keep 'em straight in my head.

Sorry, Russian giants of world literature. But I promise to take others' word for your giant-ness without a single pinch of salt. It's the least I can do.

17 comments:

Aerin said...

I took Russian for seven years and I still get confused by all the patronymics.

Sounds like you are indeed feeling better?

Whirlochre said...

It's like reading The Lord Of The Rings — only with more bizarre runes and eyebrows.

The Russkies make for fantastic footie commentary too — especially when they're playing Greece.

fairyhedgehog said...

McKoala you are not alone!

But I confess to my shame that any book that uses two different names for the same character has the power to confuse me.

JaneyV said...

I just read about ol' Solzhenitsyn and I found myself thinking about when I read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and I realised I couldn't remember anything about it except that I was freezing cold the entire time I was reading it. It was hard going - I was glad it was short. It's actually very difficult to identify with a character when the names are difficult. I find that reading names with unfamiliar phonetic patterns very confusing. It's like the name keeps falling through holes in my memory and I can't seem to retain it for long.

Or I might just have holes in my memory.

fairyhedgehog said...

"Or I might just have holes in my memory."

I can relate to that.

Aerin said...

A good article about him (none of which I knew)

laughingwolf said...

alex was no giant of lit, but was a great defender of human rights...

and that, by itself, does not a great writer make....

McKoala said...

I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one.

Feeling much better, now, thanks Aerin.

Oh, now LW, I have to take your word for that too!

sylvia said...

A Japanese friend of mine once bitched about English literature in a similar way, complaining that it wasn't reasonable for him to be able to work out that Margaret and Maggie and James and Jim and Richard and Dick were the same people, let alone what inferences he was supposed to draw from the fact that they got called different things by different people.

I don't know if Russian is the same (i.e. its obvious if you are Russian because you are used to the nicknames but weird to us in English). Aerin?

laughingwolf said...

just going by what my russkie-reading pals tell me... THEY should know....

Sarah Laurenson said...

Read one translation of a Russian novel. The cultural difference was fascinating. The book was hard to follow. I thought it was just me.

sylvia said...

laughingwolf So what DO they tell you?

*looking for enlightenment*

McKoala said...

I don't know if Russian is the same (i.e. its obvious if you are Russian because you are used to the nicknames but weird to us in English).

I think that's probably true. I loved the story of your Japanese friend - I hadn't even thought about that. It seems so obvious to us that somebody called Richard Smith might be referred to as Richard, Ricky, Dick, Mr Smith or Smith, all in the course of one book, depending on who is referring to him. So for somebody from another country reading English language literature could be just as challenging as it would be for us to read Russian.

That also reassures me that I am not a complete idiot: this is a universal issue!

laughingwolf said...

just what i noted; he was a writer, but not a great one....

ChrisEldin said...

If I could've, I would have majored in 19th century Russian literature. I love it. And I'm not snobby because I will admit to being fairly stupid about most everything.

This was one of my favorite books.

But if you want a good, light book to get into, try Bulgakov's "Heart of a Dog." It's 20th century, but a satire on science.

Oh, I want to go back to college.

Robin S. said...

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - amazing stuff.

But yeah- the names make me crazy sometimes.

writtenwyrdd said...

I read Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevski and that's all I've ever managed of Russian literature, although I have read Sergei Lukanenko's three SF books, Nightwatch, Daywatch and Twilight Watch.