Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another attempt at modern Russian literature.

I finally feel like I have actually read a novel in Russian. Not that I haven't read many books in Russian before, but either they have been classics or I haven't liked them. This book I actually like. I don't like it as much as I like the books of Magda Szabo, who also writes these kinds of books (dealing with life in all its variations), because I feel like Rubina sometimes just goes a little bit too far. It is still within what is plausible (most of the time) - you don't necessarily start thinking about how improbable the story is or something like that, but you aren't too far from doing it.

Even though I like it, I have some comments to make. Firstly, the author is a bit too fond of using metaphors, something that may turn out to be a bit tiresome. Describing something does not always have to imply comparing it with something in order to get your message across.

Another thing, which is much more serious, is that I have some trouble keeping up with the different parts of the book. Some are in the first-person, some in the third, and for a great part of the book I was sometimes confused, believing I had misunderstood who I was reading about. It does become clear in the end, but somehow this still felt unsatisfying. At one instance, I thought I was reading about the character in the female first-person narrative that had previously appeared (a woman connected to the United States) when all of a sudden I realized that past tense verbs were all in the masculine... I'm still not really sure who it was or about. It doesn't help that the author tries to interweave these stories, the destinies of different people, by the means of introducing characters that appear in the separate parts. Common friends, people randomly met on the street, etc. Perhaps it's because I'm not Russian, but I can't remember the random names mentioned here and there with intervals of perhaps 50 pages. Often I know I'm supposed to recognize the name, but among the perhaps five female names that have popped up somewhere along the way, I just can't remember which one it is.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, something weird happened. I think I lost focus for a while, and this may have been somewhat detrimental to my continued understanding of the book. All of a sudden, one of the characters starts telling the stories of different people that she or he has somehow been connected to. I found this both a bit boring and confusing.

I'm guessing the main problem I have with this book is that it tries to be a bit too complex. It could have dropped a lot of the "let's make this an epic drama"-attempts and been none the worse off for it. This is what I feel is the difference between this book and Magda Szabo's books - Szabo doesn't try so hard. She keeps it rather simple. All the people in this book have fantastic destinies, accomplish great things and go through huge changes in their lives. As such, they kind of come across as not really... real people.

Still, this was a very nice read. It wasn't necessarily very easy, and sometimes, when the author strayed away from the ordinary narrative - even though I was understanding what it was reading - I could read three pages without getting anything substantial out of it because of the metaphysical (or whatever) character and endless metaphors. So what do I like? I absolutely love that it's about Tashkent, so that I get some insight into other parts of the Soviet world. I also like how different people perceive Taskhent differently, and how there seems to be so much hospitality and so few connections to ordinary subjects often touched upon in books set in the Soviet Union (and there is a hint that that towards the end of the book). There is no lack of interesting characters, and it's interesting how, in changing from one generation to the next, the first becomes through and through evil, whereas you previously did have sympathy with it. There is, as a matter of fact, no lack of unsympathetic characters.

Now, the ending... I think I'm just going to forget about that one. It was not at all what I expected, and not in a good way, more of a "oh please, don't go there, don't ruin it now". So I'll just forget about it. It didn't add anything to the story and was completely irrelevant.

Of course, there's a movie. And I must see it, even though it doesn't look very good (poor acting). The actor playing Vera is a very good match. The one playing Lenja, on the other hand...

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