Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Favorite Russian Writers A to Я: Zamiatin Plus Znamya

Ah, the letters Ж (Zh) and З (Z)! I decided to combine them since they do fall one right after the other in the alphabet and I’ve read so little by writers with Zh and Z names.

I only have one real, true Z-rooted favorite: Evgenii Zamiatin (Yevgeny Zamyatin). And that’s thanks to one book, Мы (We), which I haven’t read in years, and a few stories, particularly “Пещера” (“The Cave”). I read We several times in translation during my college years, when I was fixated on dystopias and still hadn’t forgotten math. I should reread it, in Russian this time, and move on to some of Zamiatin’s other works, like Уездное (A Provincial Tale) and Островитяне (Islanders).

Beyond Zamiatin, I just don’t have much Ж or З experience. I always enjoy Mikhail Zoshchenko when I pick up his stories because I love his humor… but I never seem to read much because of my overwhelming preference for long stories and novels. It doesn’t help that my Zoshchenko books love to cultivate mildew. Fungus can be a positive, though: I liked Zinovy Zinik’s The Mushroom Picker (evidently known as Русофобка и фунгофил in Russian), which includes ample servings of food and laugh-out-loud humor. I read the book in translation some years ago but haven’t sought out more Zinik. I should.

I’m even worse off with Zh/Z poetry. I have faint memories of reading Vasilii Zhukovskii (Vasily Zhukovsky), whom Mirsky’s History of Russian Literature calls “the first pioneer and the accepted patriarch of the Golden Age.” And then there’s 20th-century poet Nikolai Zabolotskii, pretty much terra incognita, though on my shelf.

A Z-Related Note. Probably the easiest place to look for more of Zinik’s work is a Russian literary journal with a name beginning in З: Знамя (Znamia for “banner”). Znamia offers lots of Zinik on this page, and recent issues of the journal have published fiction by German Sadulaev, Aleksandr Snegirev, Yury Buida, and Leonid Zorin. Maybe I should start with Zorin, since his name begins with Z and Znamia has published a lot of his work. Znamia also makes annual literary awards.

The Z-List for Future Reading: Beyond getting caught up on my Zamiatin and finding more Zinik, I want to give Vladimir Zhabotinskii’s (Jabotinsky) Пятеро (The Five) another try after setting it aside a few years ago. I learned about the novel from The New Republic, which published this positive review of Michael Katz’s translation in 2005.

Ideas for more Zh and Z reading are, as always, very welcome. I’d be particularly curious to hear thoughts on Aleksandr Zinov’ev (Alexander Zinoviev), whom I’ve never read.

Illustration: Boris Kustodiev's portrait of Evgenii Zamiatin, 1923. (Via Wikipedia)

Zamyatin on Amazon


  1. Mikhail Zhvanetsky, satirist and stand-up comedian, is not to be missed. Hundreds of quotes from his sketches went into the language. He wrote for Arkady Raikin in the 60s, and then performed on his own.

  2. I've had almost exactly your experience with Zamyatin and Zoshchenko (though I've read My in Russian), but I've never read Zinik or Jabotinsky. I can add another Z, Oleg Zaionchkovsky; I've only read one of his stories, but I liked it a lot, and I'm very much looking forward to his novel Petrovich, which has been highly recommended to me.

  3. Alexander, your mention of Zhvanetsky reminded me of Zadornov, too. I'm more familiar with Zhvanetsky, though I didn't realize he wrote for Raikin.

    Thank you for mentioning Zaionchkovsky, Languagehat. I've seen his name but never read him. I'll have to look into his books. Some of his work, including excerpts from his novel Счастье возможно, is available on Журнальный зал here.

  4. also Boris Zaitsev, of Bunin - Zamyatin generation, a very good short story writer and critic, undervalued, but there have been programmes and articles on him in Russia recently.

    if you google 'Avas' and 'Raikin' you'll find the famous sketch on youtube.

  5. I LOVE Zamyatin! I just got done with We and it was very hard to put down. But I knew nothing about him until a few months ago. Thanks for the post! I'll have to look into his other stuff now.

    1. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed We, Loren! I should join you in looking into more Zamyatin: I've barely moved beyond We and a few stories I liked very much. Enjoy... and please do let me know if you find anything you especially like!