True Russian Spirit: ANNA KARENINA, p. 326

This is a Vronsky chapter. (Self has been skipping all the Anna chapters; she can’t believe how suddenly and decisively Anna has fallen, from being a calm and exemplary wife to being a mewling, desperate and unhappy mistress. Is such a drastic change even realistic? Maybe such things do happen in real life — perhaps Vronsky truly was that charming — but that’s no excuse to make them happen in fiction, lol)

A foreign prince visits Russia:

In Turkey he had been in a harem, in India he had ridden an elephant, and now in Russia he wished to sample all the special Russian pleasures.

Vronsky, who was with him as a kind of master of ceremonies, took great pains to apportion all the Russian pleasures offered the prince by various individuals. There were trotters, bliny, bear hunts, troikas, Gypsies, and drinking bouts with Russian plate smashing. The prince assimilated the Russian spirit with extraordinary ease, smashed trays of plates, sat a Gypsy woman on his knee, and seemed to ask, Isn’t there something else, or does the Russian spirit consist merely of this?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Anna Karenina: Introduction by Gary Saul Morson

Self making mincemeat of her reading list.

First, she abandoned all six books of My Struggle after reading just one page of Book One.

Then, she stopped reading Barracoon at the first page of the narrative proper, she just couldn’t agree with the decision Hurston made to write him as he appeared, not as he truly was: a grown man, a man who had endured unimaginable suffering.

Today, she put aside her copy of If On a Winter’s Night a Travel.

What does she want? What is she looking for?

Hopefully it’s Anna Karenina.

From the Introduction:

The lovers live in a realm beyond good and evil. After all, good and evil depend on choice, and where fate governs, choice is out of the question. No matter how much pain the lovers cause, one cannot condemn them . . .

That is the story Anna imagines she is living. As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance . . .  As Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novels she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or Vronsky . . . Anna feels that fate has marked her out for a special destiny, perhaps tragic but surely exaulted.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Anastasia Ivanovna Medvedkina, Machine Gunner

You’re a writer. Think up something yourself. Something beautiful. Without lice and filth, without vomit . . . Without the smell of vodka and blood . . . Not so frightening as life.

— from The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich

Narrative is Made Narrative By ‘The End’

  • It’s already clear to you that without the thought of death it is impossible to make out anything in a human being. — Svetlana Alexievich, A Human Being Is Greater Than War

Perhaps self has a Russian soul. She is satisfied with the above quote, even though “to make out anything” is really vague. Perhaps something got lost in the translation from the Russian?

It sounds so perfect and mysterious, though.

Stay tuned.

Reading Svetlana Alexievich, After Returning from the British Library

Self saw the exhibit Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library this morning. Despite the fact that she got there practically at opening, the exhibit was very crowded. And she is short. And all the people between her and the display cases seemed very tall. Nevertheless, she is glad she went. On one wall is a quote, dating from the late 11th century. Which is to say, after the Norman Conquest. She forgot to note the identity of the writer, but guesses it must have been a monk:

Nothing has gone well for a long time now. There has been harrying and hunger, burning and bloodshed.

She returned to her rooms and resumed reading Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of Russian women soldiers: The Unwomanly Face of War. From the essay that begins the book (A Human Being Is Greater Than War):

‘Women’s’ war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words . . . And it is not only they (people) who suffer, but the earth, the birds, the trees.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR, by Svetlana Alexievich

Ditched Mirror, Shoulder, Signal last night. Ugh. In the end, it was impossible for self to read about the driving lessons with a married instructor that the narrator tries to imbue with romantic significance.

Self is doing much better with the stoicism of Svetlana Alexievich’s women soldiers.

Alexievich: A Human Being Is Greater Than War:

  • Remembering is not a passionate or dispassionate retelling of a reality that is no more, but a new birth of the past, when time goes in reverse. Above all, it is creativity. As they narrate, people create, they “write” their life.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Wedding Party and the Wolves: MY ANTONIA, Ch. VIII

No one ever brings up this story in the reviews, so self will:

In Russia, sometime in the last century, there was a wedding. In the dead of winter. (Who has a wedding in the dead of winter? Nevertheless.)

“The wolves were bad that winter.” They “ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there were hundreds of them.”

The last sledge in the wedding cortege was overturned and the passengers spilled out on the snow. The wolves set on them.

Then another sledge crashed, and so forth and so on.

Until there was only one sledge left, and it was the sledge of the bride, the groom, and two men. They were almost to their village, but the horses were fading.

One of the men rose and went to the back of the sledge. They could reach the village safely but only if they lightened the load. The man went for the bride. The groom tried to prevent him, so the man tossed them both out on the snow. And the two men reached the safety of the village, alone. But no one would talk to them.

The two men “went away to strange towns, but when people learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the two men who had fed the bride to the wolves.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, p. 213 (Spoiler)

Because of the title, maybe you were expecting something written in the same antic spirit with which Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita. Julie Lekstrom Himes’s novel, however, is a completely different animal. It’s straightforward realism: a searing look at how cruelly the Stalinist state treated its artists and writers (and gets really painful to read around p. 216)

Bulgakov is not the only victim of the state. No writer, it seems, escaped. The cruelest fates are reserved for Mayakovsky and Mandelstam. But there were many others.

p. 213, Margarita has disappeared, and Bulgakov goes to Lubyanka on a futile search for information.

Guard: I have no information available.

Bulgakov: Every week I hear the same thing — do you know if she is even in there?

Guard: Is she out there with you?

Bulgakov: Of course not.

Guard: Then she is here.

Meanwhile, inside Lubyanka, Margarita “was told her attitude did not help her. When she returned to her cell, a metal shutter had been screwed over the window. Where the clock had hung there were only wires.”

Since we know precisely how much sun passes through this window every day (16 minutes, Margarita could tell by the clock), the sudden withdrawal of this small comfort (the guards knew!) is particularly awful.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, pp. 138 – 139 mentions Gogol

Loving this book because of all the writerly mentions. In addition to Bulgakov (Must watch the movie with Charlotte Rampling), there are Osip Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova . . .

All tortured, sent into exile, heartbreaking. But at least their words survived.

On p. 138, there’s a mention of Gogol (Self has to type on the floor, sitting on throw pillows; sitting at a desk gives her hand and wrist cramps. But the other day, she noticed spiders crawling over her legs and feet and she’s like constantly on the alert with Off! spray).

p. 138:

In his later years, Gogol had become convinced that God had abandoned him. Tortured, half-crazed, he burnt his remaining manuscripts only days before he died. As though the promise of man’s redemption must perish with him. He claimed the Devil had tricked him into doing so. He’d been only forty-one.

p. 139:

In 1931 when Gogol’s body was exhumed he was discovered to be facing downward. The writer had had a terrible fear of being buried alive, so much so that he’d willed his casket be fitted with a breathing tube as well as a rope by which to sound some external bell if needed.

As the grimness gathers around Bulgakov, the novel can only get more depressing. But so far, self has been able to persist.

This novel won the 2017 First Novel Prize from New York’s Center for Fiction, “the only literary center in the United States devoted to the art of fiction.”

Kudos to Ms. Himes.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Quote of the Day: MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, p. 129

Why a writer can think he will survive a Stalinist purge:

  • You believe if you can be strong, you can withstand them. You believe such strength is possible.

You believe you can outwit a madman. Which is in itself a form of madness.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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