This hasn’t been a very interesting week for blogging, I must say. I hardly did anything, and left the house only to buy ramen and to head to my elevator plant job. Why? Well, I’m afraid we had a flu epidemic this week, a whole week of school at the gymnasia was cancelled, and I was laid low myself! I can’t be sure if it was the flu–our home thermometer is broken, and besides, I neither know how to read celsius or how to put a thermometer in the warmest, coziest region of my armpit, so taking my temperature didn’t really work out. Still, I haven’t felt that sick in a long time, so this blog entry is going to be all about reading, which is all I did this week. Except watch a bunch of movies on Netflix streaming.
(By the way you may be wondering about how Kot is doing. I only wish I had gotten a good picture of him with his cone on his head, it was adorable. He was very wobbly after his surgery, but he’s been doing great and he is quite a bit sweeter, and no more biting and anguished meowing at midnight).
Anyway, back to reading. When I got back I read something else by Bulgakov: Rokovie Yaitza, or The Fatal Eggs. This was inspired by something my dad was reading, a memoir by a long-time ambassador to the Soviet Union who was friends with Bulgakov and had included such a delightful summary of the novella that I just had to read it. In it, a misanthropic reptile scientist discovers the “ray of light,” a powerful red beam in his microscope that has the power to make organisms grow big and mighty. Word gets out, and loserish Soviet official gets the idea that he can give his career a meteoric jolt if he can use the “ray of light” to resurrect the chicken industry after a recent chicken plague. The reptile scientist hands over his secret–well, what else was he supposed to do? and the the experiment goes terribly awry, so that soon after the eggs start hatching, Moscow is victim to an apocalyptic invasion of dinosauresque monsters and giant ostriches! You can feel Bulgakov’s glee as he wreaks literary havoc on Moscow. It was very funny and enjoyable.
Now I’m in the middle of two story collections. One of them is Tyomnie Allei, or Dark Avenues, a story collection by Ivan Bunin, who won the 1933 Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s a collection of simple love stories, most of them very nice and poetic, and they all have quite an old-fashioned feel for being published in the thirties and forties. They seem to be all about young love, or young love remembered, and so they seem to come from an earlier, pre-Soviet Russia, as if all that had never happened. This may be because he emigrated to Odessa and then right to the south of France immediately after the Revolution. It’s very beautiful, each of the stories leaves a delicate impression, rather than a deep one, and it’s the kind of prose that wouldn’t be difficult to read if he didn’t like to include so many names of trees and outdated fabrics like “worsted”.
Another thing I’m reading is Isaac Babel’s Konarmia, or Red Cavalry, a story collection of two or three paged stories based on Babel’s experience as a reporter in the Soviet-Polish War which shortly followed the Revolution. I loved Babel in translation, so it’s incredible to read him in Russian, but he’s so difficult and has such a startlingly avant-garde style that I can only manage zero to two of these tiny stories a day. This collection is famous for the sentence which occurs on the opening page: “the orange sun rolled across the horizon like a severed head,” so, with sentences like that, I’m often thinking, “??? Did I just read that???” One can second guess one’s Russian. But I’m learning lots of vocabulary from it, much of which I probably won’t encounter again for ages.
And finally, yes, I’m still working on Idiot, though now after this week of doing nothing but reading, I’ve just got a hundred pages left. What a great title for a book, and by the way, the word’s the same in English and in Russian. It’s an extraordinary book, and I think my favorite Dostoevsky so far, not just because reading in Russian makes it better, but because I love the characters so much. And the story never stops for the sake of a landscape or some dreary backstory, it’s all story all the time, except when there’s a pause for some very interesting authorial comment, like on how authors deal introduce “ordinary people” into their stories.
Anyway, that’s all for now because I’m finally going to do something today. I’m feeling better, and the color of my snot has changed from green to yellow, so I’m going to check out some exhibitions and go ice skating! hooray!