Monday, September 19, 2011

Favorite Russian Writers A to Я: Lermontov

My favorite Russian L writer has been with me since I began reading in Russian in the ‘80s: Mikhail Lermontov. My Russian literature class read Lermontov’s story “Тамань” (“Taman’”) from the novel-in-stories Герой нашего времени (A Hero of Our Time); I read the entire book on my own a couple years later. Rereading and loving the book again two years ago was a treat, both because I could enjoy the quality of the writing so much more (thank goodness, after all those years!) and because Hero continues to be a source of allusions in contemporary Russian fiction. I should add that Lermontov’s poetry was a highlight of my grad school reading list.

Beyond Lermontov, though, my letter L reading has been a little limited... Leonid Leonov’s story Конец мелкого человека (The End of a Petty Man) was intriguingly peculiar (previous post) but now that I have some of his other books—Соть (Soviet River) and Вор (The Thief)—I have yet to pull one off the shelf to read. And then there’s Nikolai Leskov whose Леди Макбет Мценского уезда (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) I read when I lived in Moscow. Unfortunately, my box of books with Lady Macbeth and other stories got lost somewhere between here and there: the box also contained Lolita and The Brothers Karamazov, so I’ve often wondered what went on in transit. One of these days I’ll buy some sort of replacement Leskov volume. A friend gave me Leskov’s Железная воля (An Iron Will), which I found less interesting than Lady Macbeth (previous post), though fairly easy to read. The blogger known as Amateur Reader, who writes Wuthering Expectations, recently read some Leskov and included fun links in posts. Another L writer on my shelf is Ivan Lazhechnikov, whose Ледяной дом (House of Ice) has been cooling its heels waiting for me for years. Maybe this winter.

Alas, contemporary L writers have yet to endear themselves to me… but maybe something by one of the Lipskerovs—Mikhail or Dmitrii—will grab me. Mikhail Lipskerov’s Белая горячка. Delirium Tremens (no translation needed, I think!) is dedicated to Venichka E and begins with a shot of vodka, so it’s definitely a book that calls for a specific type of reading mood.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mikhail Lomonosov. Among other things, Lomonosov wrote poetry—I specifically remember his Ода на взятие Хотина (“Ode on the Taking of Khotin”) from my eighteenth-century Russian literature course—and helped reform literary Russian. He was also a scientist who wrote about topics like the uses of glass. Lomonosov and I crossed paths, albeit a couple centuries apart, in Arkhangel’sk, where I was given medallions with his profile. I owe Lomonosov some credit for helping me with my oral exams in Russian literature. I was a very undistinguished student of the history of the Russian language, so was grateful to be able to mention a visit to Arkhangel’sk when Lomonosov came up during my exam. One of my professors, Morton Benson, asked if I’d heard оканье there... the short explanation of оканье is that an unstressed “o” sounds like “o” instead of “a”—оканье can sometimes be heard in northern Russia. At any rate, I don’t remember what, exactly, I told Dr. Benson but I do remember that the unexpected tangent about travel certainly helped me relax.

As always, I look forward to readers’ thoughts on writers with names beginning with L.

Up next: I’m still enjoying Sergei Kuznetsov’s Хоровод воды (The Round Dance of Water), though it’s long…

Image credit: Self-portrait of Lermontov, via Wikipedia.


  1. By coincidence, Lisa, I was also rereading Lermontov's 'Geroi nashego vremeni' tonight in order to set a passage as a translation test for my students when term starts - I'd better not say which part of the book, in case they read your blog and this comment! I love 'Geroi'. And please DO read 'Ledianoi dom' soon - it's full of semi-incomprehensible period language (or so I found when I tackled it last year), but it's also a great, bodice-ripping pageant despite its flaws...

  2. Thanks for the comment and recommendation, Russian Dinosaur! I don't know what's held me back from reading Ledianoi dom but I brought it back to my upstairs shelf for serious consideration after I finish all the Big Book finalists (only a few to go!)... "bodice-ripping pageant" sounds like it would be a nice change of pace!

    It's great to hear you're using Lermontov for your class. May your students enjoy the passage in their test!

  3. As an experiment - and because I enjoyed your summaries so much - I sent this to everyone who reads my Twitters or whatever they are called. I should learn the proper technical terms.

  4. Oh boy, another alphabetical post! And I'm glad for the recommendation of Ледяной дом, which I've been wanting to read myself.

    There actually aren't a lot of other L writers; the most famous that comes to mind is Eduard Limonov, whose Это я - Эдичка has been frequently recommended but which I haven't gotten around to reading. Then there's the oddball Konstantin Leontiev (Константин Николаевич Леонтьев), whom I wrote about here.

    But how could you omit the most-published author in all Soviet history?!

  5. Amateur Reader (Tom), I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the post and tweeted (?) about it. It was nice to see your recent posts about Leskov. And happy blog birthday!

    Thank you for mentioning Leont'ev, Languagehat... I'll look into him since I certainly do like oddball writers! Limonov has never been a favorite, though I did read Eddie years back. Alas, I never quite hit it off with that "most-published author" you mentioned, either!

    There may be another alphabetical post or two on the way soon, thanks to long books... I'm about halfway through the Kuznetsov book and Bykov's Ostromov, another big book nominated for the Big Book awaits!

  6. Lermontov is a favorite of mine though I've never read him in Russian. I read him in college in a Russian Lit in Translation class and was blown away.

  7. Marie, I'm glad to hear you've also enjoyed Lermontov! Sometimes just thinking back to these classics makes me want to (re)read them again...