Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rolling in roubles and a Russian book review

Good news of the day: I got a pay rise! 3000 extra roubles a month! Cuz I am apparently just that good of a teacher :) (says the ESL teacher who is planning on watching The Doors documentary with her class tomorrow. Some English language learning AND indoctrination of the greatest band ever? Now that's what I call killing two birds with one stone. Or as the Russians say, killing two rabbits with one shot. But I don't like that one because it reminds me of Jack-a-diddly-dumfus. Ok, if I've completely lost you I understand, and I'm sorry...it's midnight and I'm tired and not making any sense!)

I just finished reading a great collection of novellas by Tolstoy. I was going to write "short stories" but according to some bibliophile sources, there is a clear distinction between a short story and a novella (mainly to do with length...these novellas that I read are all between forty and sixty pages long).

The book consisted of four of Tolstoy's best-known novellas - Family Happiness, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and The Devil.

The Kreutzer Sonata and The Devil are both fascinating psychological thrillers dealing with lust, adultery, jealousy, and murder. The Devil even comes with a "DVD-esque" feature, because Tolstoy included two alternate endings. I personally preferred the first ending, but I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself and see which ending you liked best! I read the whole novella on my forty-five minute bus ride yesterday, and absolutely loved it.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich starts off with several people receiving the news that their old co-worker Ivan Ilyich has died. Then it goes back to Ivan's life - his childhood, his perfect career as a judge, his marriage, his children, the way he set up his life according to what was considered seemly. Then the detached, somewhat cynical and ironic narrator switches gears, following Ivan's terrifying descent into illness (most likely cancer) and his own reactions and those of his family and friends. I could not put this down - it was one of those stories that makes you realize the importance of not taking life for granted. My mum has a coffee mug that says, "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away." Beautifully and simply put, this sentiment is expressed by powerful characters, diction, and imagery in what is probably Tolstoy's most famous novella.

The only one I didn't really like was Family Happiness, and that was because it just struck me as very depressing. I've never been married, so obviously I have no idea what marriage is really like, but Tolstoy does not exactly make me want to rush out and get married to see for myself. Masha is a young, idealistic girl who falls in love with her dead father's best friend, an experienced, world-weary man in his late thirties. At first, everything is amazing for the newly-weds, but then the obvious dichotomy between old and young, man and woman, jaded and naive, ensues. I won't give away the ending but I won't recommend reading the novella, either. The first three though? Definitely!! And as I mentioned, they are all very easy, quick, and engrossing reads!

Off to bed now - Iain lent me "Slumdog Millionaire" (which I never knew was a book before it was a movie) so I'm going to start that tonight!

1 comment:

  1. Was Tolstoy actually tolstoy? Always wondered about that. Did you ever read those 'find your own adventure' books back in school? Where you go to pg 23 if you pick option B or something.

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