why should I know Russian?

Wouldn’t you want to read a book if its cover looked like this?  When I bought it in St. Petersburg two summers ago, I spent a long time trying to find the Master and Margarita with the most attractive cover.  I knew I wanted to own my own copy of the novel, and it had to look as awesome as the story inside.

While I struggle to read this book (it’s easier than it was at first, but it is still difficult) I keep looking for reasons to justify my learning Russian.  Of course, I have many obvious reasons to know the language: my dad has quite a nice Russian library, with nice Soviet complete-works sets of most of the greatest authors, and it would be sad if he were the only one to ever use those books.  If I learn Russian, I can speak to Russian people and really live in Russia.  (I was really taken aback when I was interviewing for a job with Language Link, an English as a Foreign Language teaching company that I almost worked for, and the recruiter told me he had been living in Moscow for three years without knowing Russian.  What???)  It is useful and interesting to know another language.  But sometimes I do ask myself what is the point of reading a book in its original language when you yourself are not a native speaker with perfect comprehension.  I was a little put off when, yesterday, I cracked an English copy of Master and the language seemed so vivid and colorful to me, with a kind of clearness and brightness that isn’t quite coming across to me in Russian yet.  Of course, the eventual goal of reading in the original language is to have real purity of writing and tone come straight at you, but right now I do sometimes get held up by looking up words I don’t know, or by having an incomplete or one dimensional understanding of Russian words (for instance, I only know the dictionary definition of a word and haven’t seen it appear enough times in context to have any idea of its nuances, or I simply can’t remember that one word can mean something while also meaning something slightly different).   But I have to keep going.  I know I’ll get there.  It’s already priceless to be up close to the Russian-ness of a book, to be reading it and to feel that specific and heady foreign flavor.  And there’s a satisfaction you get with each sentence that comes from your mind making its way through the foreign grammar.  It’s like instantaneously solving interesting mathematical word problems one after another. I will try not to get too frustrated with it, because I know that, even after four years of college Russian I am only at the beginning of being actually literate in the language.  Onward!

Anyway, I have just been informed that a letter of invitation from my Moscow school is on its way and I will soon be able to go get my visa.  I am curious and terrified to go to the realm of red tape that I expect is the Russian embassy in New York.  Wish me luck!

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