Happy Power Engineering Day! What better way to celebrate electricity than reading some Andrei Platonov, who once worked as an electrical engineer?
One fitting selection is Platonov’s short story “Родина электричества” (“The Motherland of Electricity”), which I recently read and enjoyed. The narrator of this quirky 1926 story walks for days to reach a town needing drought relief and help with an electrical system that’s a relic from the White Army. Platonov covers a lot in 10 pages, touching on religious, political, technological, and mythical themes.
“The Motherland of Electricity” is included in Soul, a new collection of Robert Chandler’s translations of Platonov stories published by the New York Review of Books. Soul contains an extensive introduction by John Berger.
Name Day for Annas. Sorry, Ms. Karenina, but my favorite literary Anna is Akhmatova. It’s worth listening to Akhmatova read her own poetry even if you don’t understand Russian. This online anthology includes two recordings of Akhmatova, some poems in Russian and English, biographical information, illustrations, and links. The photo of Joseph Brodsky at Akhmatova’s funeral illustrates their closeness.
Sergei Minaev in the New York Times. Today’s New York Times included a “Saturday Profile” of Sergei Minaev, author of the best-selling novel Духless (Soulless). Soulless is an unfortunate book: it might have become something quite good had Minaev and his editor been patient enough to work through another draft or two. Decadence alone does not a novel make.
The Times article quotes Vasilii Aksyonov saying that “Minaev’s hero is a superfluous man.” That’s true, but the book’s lack of structure and real characters doom it from contributing to the pantheon of superfluous men in Russian literature, antiheroes like Lermontov’s Pechorin and Goncharov’s Oblomov. Minaev’s characters are conscious that they’re a lost generation, but Soulless was probably successful primarily for its voyeuristic look into another lifestyle, like Oksana Robski’s Casual. I hesitate to say that Soulless probably won’t be translated into English: Casual already made it.