Today was pretty average, so I’m not really going to talk about it at all.
Instead, I’m going to wax scholastic for a second and inform y’all about some of my reading material this summer.
Natasha’s Dance (Orlando Figes) This book, a “cultural history” of Russia, was a really interesting read. Figes talks about – shocker – the cultural history of Russia, from the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 to the Soviet 1960s. Figes doesn’t cover that much actual history (leaving big events pretty much unexplained) but does an awesome job putting the music, art, dance, and literature of Russia (all of which, at some point, have been world-renowned) in a historical context. His research was exhaustive and it really paid off – the book is chock full of information and actually, to my surprise, helped prepare me mentally for Russia. Specifically, the book focuses a lot on what is “Russian” and how different artists have portrayed what they consider to be “Russian.” The conflict between more Europe-leaning and more introverted (this manifested itself in the peasant/folk obsession of many 19th century Russian artists) sects of Russian society is also examined in depth. The book was really long and definitely not an easy read, but it was definitely worth it and I would label it a must-read for anyone going to Russia. Thanks to Dr. Russell for giving it to me!
Ivanov (Anton Chekhov) This was a really depressing play. I won’t tell you why because it would spoil a good play for you. But basically Chekhov’s play focuses on Ivanov, a man trapped in a mid-life crisis, with a sick wife and mired in financial ruin. Not the world’s most uplifting play, but a fine example of Russian literature.
The Seagull (Anton Chekhov) Another really depressing play courtesy of Chekhov. One thing that I find amazing about Chekhov’s plays (aka the two of them that I’ve read) is his ability to develop characters in such a short period of time. I think the reason for this is his mastery of subtext – Chekhov fits in whole descriptions in silences, reveals motives in pauses, foreshadows in beats. It’s really cool and The Seagull is not only a great example of Chekhov’s ability to utilize subtext, but also just a riveting play.
Right now I’m reading Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, with The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard to follow. I really like Chekhov and I’m happy I brought along this collection of his “major plays.” Other books I brought with me are Notes from Underground and The Double, both by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. And, to finish, an almost mandatory collection of Alexander Pushkin, including prose tales Eugene Ogenin and Gypsies.
The reason I bring up my reading list for this summer is because here in Russia, more than any other country I’ve ever seen, authors are memorialized, even worshipped. The main street in Kazan’s city center: Pushkin Street (a statue of the great poet can be found outside the city’s main theater). There is also a Dostoevsky Street (another main drag) and a Chekhov Market. When taking the tour of Kazan State University, our group was informed – by an excited tour guide – that Tolstoy chose KSU as his place to study. She spent a few minutes talking to us about Tolstoy’s KSU and how he was known as not particularly studious – they probably like to think that he was dreaming up the plotlines of Anna Karenina and War and Peace.
Anyways, that’s enough for today. I hope this post hasn’t been unbelievably boring – hopefully I can come up with something entertaining tomorrow!