Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Émigré literature.

Having finished Orlando Figes's impressive book Natasha's Dance (which sure has taken me some time), I have been intrigued by three authors that I have not yet read anything of - Bunin, Nabokov and Tsvetaeva. Unfortunately, I'm not big on poetry, but I will give it a serious try for the sake of Tsvetaeva, and I actually have no idea what Bunin wrote, but I was intrigued while reading about it so it must have been something interesting. 

Both Nabokov and Tsvetaeva intrigue me by being émigré writers. Bunin as well, but as I said, I can't remember what he wrote about all too well. I'll write about him another time. Have you ever thought about how much more sophisticated "émigré" sounds than... well, what they really were, refugees or immigrants? No one likes an immigrant, but an émigré member of the Russian intelligentsia? Ah, how chic! 

Being more or less chic, they were writing outside of their - so to speak - natural habitat, or outside of what they believed was their true home, or the essence of it. I find the displacement of people intriguing, be it in the context of forced emigration or voluntarily moving abroad, or the use of another language than one's native as one's primary mode of expression (minority literature in major languages, such as Kafka). What happens to a person's identity? Is identity a stable thing, formed in your childhood, and if so, do you ever really fit in when you move away? Or is it ever-changing and do people place too much weight on ending up somewhere else than where you were born? How long do you remain a foreigner? When do you acquire the right to have an opinion of your new country, without getting "what would you know, it's not your country"? People who move abroad themselves can often not distance themselves from the petty feeling of proprietorship towards their countries, even though they, undoubtedly, must experience estrangement in their host countries. Stravinsky, himself an émigré who only returned to Russia in the 60's for a visit, said "Yet the right to criticise Russia is mine, because Russia is mine and because I love it, and I do not give any foreigner that right." I wonder if he ever felt like criticizing, for example, France?

Nabokov in that way feels like a perfect Russian émigré gone American (who would not tolerate anyone criticizing America!), having grown up speaking and writing English before he learned to write in Russian. When his Russian reading audience was diminishing, he simply switched to English. Figes quotes his poem To Russia (1939), which I think suits the situation very well. This is a part of it:

He who freely abandons his country
On the heights to bewail it is free.
But now I am down in the valley
And now do not come close to me.

I'm prepared to lie hidden forever
And to live without a name. I'm prepared,
Lest we only in dreams come together,
All conceivable dreams to forswear;

To be drained of my blood, to be crippled,
To have done with the books I most love,
For the first available idiom
To exchange all I have: my own tongue.

 For Tsvetaeva, who ended up in Paris, I think it was more difficult:

"From a world where my poems were as necessary as bread I came into a world where no one needs poems, neither my poems nor any poems, where poems are needed like - dessert: if anyone -needs - dessert..."

Sometimes I really need dessert.

No one wanted to read her poems, she wasn't understood by her fellow Russian emigrants, and Tsvetaeva ended up returning to the Soviet Union with her husband, perhaps not really wanting to, but imagining that she would be appreciated there and find a reading audience again. That didn't happen. Instead her husband was arrested and shot, her daughter sent to a gulag, and she killed herself. Her first daughter also died, before the emigration, and no one (including her son) went to her funeral. How's that for tragedy?

Immigration is always a hot topic, and especially so today when more and more European countries are becoming outright fascist - or at least contain fascist elements that grow stronger and stronger. The statistics, the surface manifestation of immigration are interesting in their own right. Who benefits from immigration? Why do people become so obsessed with their national purity only when they believe it to be threatened? What moral responsibilities do advanced societies have towards the less fortunate who choose to emigrate? The inner workings of individual experiences are equally interesting, and largely ignored in the public debate, which is, might I add, raging in my increasingly more embarrassing native country. And is there a more pleasant way to explore it than through literature?

That being said, I haven't yet started on my mission to explore émigré litterature. I have read some, like Andreï Makiné (who is a later example of an émigré author), but not in any conscious kind of way. If anyone has any recommendation for Nabokov, for example, or other authors, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The things you discover by accident.

There are many languages that I wish to learn, however certain small doubts are setting in. How on earth will I be able to find the time for it, the opportunities for it, while at the same time 1) reading an absurd amount of books and 2) actually making some money at some point? No idea. The more I travel, spend time abroad, etc., the more I realize that learning a language is not only a matter of self-discipline and sitting at home with your books and the occasional tutor/language class to calm your bad conscience. This became clear when I spent a year in France and at the end thought "I will never learn another language, because I will never manage to leave home in this way again". A language is not only the language itself, there's tons of stuff connected to it, something that I think perhaps 1% of people get, and especially not those who do not study anything themselves.

I think one of the most important things about spending time abroad is discovering random things that increase your knowledge of the culture the language is connected to. With the right kind of diligence, I guess this can be achieved at home, but that is rarely the case. Recently there has been a series of articles in Swedish press (particularly on dn.se) regarding the dismantling of language education at Swedish institutions of higher education. There's been repeated mention of how Sweden loses a great deal of business due to the denial of the fact that there are other languages than English, while at the same time having a highly multilingual population (due to immigration). Using money on language educations at Universities and actually sending people abroad doesn't really seem to be a focus. If you are going to deal with people from other countries professionally, you shouldn't just have a half-decent knowledge of grammar and a vocabulary, you also have to understand in what way the people you are dealing with differ from you in the way they interact socially, professionally, etc. That's especially important if you're Swedish and about as formal as a continental European 4 year old! Well, it's not like I have a high opinion of Swedes anyway, so nothing has really been lost.

But really, I intended to write a post about literature. Since getting interested in Ukraine, I have met some... resistance from people. Mostly, it's "isn't that the same thing as Russian?" (never actually coming from Russians). The answer, once and for all, is no. Then there's the "but Ukrainian sounds so funny!" like it's a plaything more than an actual language, which is about as intelligent as the Swedes/Norwegians going "Swedes/Norwegians sounds so stupid/happy!" (both think the same thing about the other, you see, and no one understands why). Finally, there's the "Ukraine is a part of Russia" which is just ridiculous. Ukraine is a separate country, with a separate culture, which has sides that are both Russian (especially to the east, naturally) and western. Being in Ukraine is a whole different thing from being in Russia. And, the literature!

Why hasn't anyone ever told me about Ukrainian literature? On a side note, I love how in Ukrainian bookstores, Russian literature is put together with "World Literature", further shattering the "but it's the same thing"-idea. Since Russians are so fond of claiming Ukraine as their own, why have I never come across any Ukrainian literature anywhere? One would think I would, considering what my interests are. But no. I had never heard of any of the Big Ones until I went to Kiev. I've had this long-standing problem of never finding any Russian literature that I sincerely like, but no such thing with Ukrainian literature. Ukrainian literature is awesome!

Well, I should now confess that I've read a total of 4 books so far. But they have all of them been *quite* awesome. Ukraine deserves to be acknowledged for this. Why is it all Tolstoy, Dostojevsky but no Franko, Vynnychenko? I discovered Franko by being given his Перехресні стежки by my tandem partner in Oslo, and Vynnychenko by being given his Записки кирпатого Мефістофеля (in a volume with some short stories as well) by a friend I made in Kiev. They both interest me in a way Russian literature has not quite been able to. I have a whole stack of books waiting for me, after going to the Petrivka book market and saying to an old man there that I was looking for Ukrainian literature. He enthusiastically picked out four or five volumes and sold them to me for almost nothing. I hope they will continue to amaze me. I doubt I would have this knowledge and these insights if I had just stayed at home in Oslo, just like I wouldn't have known that Russian people aren't actually as gloomy and scary as they appear on the street. I wouldn't have learned this from only going to Ukraine either, because Ukrainians on the street are different from Russians on the street!

For all of those who understand Ukrainian, here's an interesting mini-documentary on Vynnychenko. (Unfortunately the music is sometimes so loud it's hard to hear what they say.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Small photo post.

Kiev is still great.

There's a new cat bothering me at the computer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Update from Kiev.

I think it's about time for an update on my life in Kiev (yeah, I moved there for three months with a friend). We've already been here for two or three weeks, and I hadn't bought any new books until yesterday. It's weird.

I started reading Taras Bulba. It's proving to be quite difficult.
 I also haven't visited any churches yet, but then that's partially because I've visited them before and we have visitors coming that we have to take to some tourist places. Not that churches are necessarily very touristy, but for people from Protestant countries Orthodox churches are quite spectacular. I did visit the Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, founded in the 11th Century. When I went there I had a personal guide, a person who works in one of the very many buildings inside the convent area.

A cemetery inside the Lavra.

A bell tower constructed in various styles.
 I also walked up the Andrijivskij spusk. On weekends it's full of people selling souvenirs, crafts, stuff in general. It goes from St. Andrew's church on the top of the hill down to Podol, the old merchant part of town.
At the top of the hill.

St. Andrew's church.

I bought my books from a woman at the bottom of the hill. First, she tried to speak to us in English, and switched to Russian when I protested. The, when I said I was interested in Ukrainian books, she switched to Ukrainian. I am told, over and over again, that I shouldn't have gone to Kiev if I wanted to learn Ukrainian, because no one speaks Ukrainian in Kiev. Only, they really do. I hear Ukrainian all the time, you see it everywhere on the streets, and I really have to practice my Russian as well anyway, so it's a win-win situation.

We now have two days of rain coming up. It feels quite nice after a couple of days of 30°C, and I only wish I had a bottle of whiskey to go with my new books. I am contemplating a visit to the huge historical museum today, with an obligatory stop in a café somewhere with dear Taras.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marta Ketro.

This summer has not lead to very many posts here. Not because we've had a great summer. Actually, we've hardly had any summer at all, and what you see below on the photo is one of those rare days with sun. Don't be fooled though, it was still cold outside. 

Марта Кетро - Улыбайся всегда, любовь моя (Always smile, my love)

I rarely write anything about books here these days since I use Goodreads for my nerdy literary needs, and since all I do now is read, I don't have much else to write about. However, I thought I should jot down a couple of words about the most recent Russian book I've read. It belongs to a genre that I both adore and somehow, secretly, despise - feminine prose. That it says "Самая искренная и нежная из легенда русского интернета" (The most genuine and tender legends of the Russian Internet) on the cover annoys me somewhat because of the use of the word "tender". As soon as they put words like that, or "feminine prose" on the cover of a book, a huge chunk of possible readers are immediately scared off. However, it's quite true, it's very, very genuine, and very tender (bleh). I like the genuine part, it places Marta Ketro in the exclusive club that Annie Ernaux reigns in, but unfortunately, it does become a bit too flowery and horribly unstructured. Whereas Ernaux's books have structure and are so completely devoid of pretense, Ketro has some of the same brilliant insights and writes some absolutely wonderful things, but the red thread in this thing that I have a hard time calling a book, is difficult to grasp. It begins very, very well, with a narrative. Then there's a death, and there's a new story, then it all seems to fall to pieces and there's I don't know how many pages of I don't know what. All of a sudden, something brilliant, and then just... a confusing mass of words. It's a shame, because Ketro obviously has potential. Perhaps some more editing would have been appropriate here? I'm not sure if perhaps the death, the turning point, is the reason for the following chaos, and that there's a symbolism there. What could have turned into a normal life, like a normal narrative, with logical events following one another, turns into loose encounters, random meetings. I may have read the book too slowly, so that my loosing track of what on earth was the story line was actually my fault, and not the author's.

Quote time!

Нет ничего прекраснее, чем любить человека на расстоянии, избегая не только физической близости, но и простых встреч. Идеальный союз двух душ, неувядающий и неутолимый. Что может быть лучше?
Почти так же прекрасна телесная близость при польном внутреннем отчуждении. Есть особая, освежающая свобода в том, чтобы принадлежать партнеру лишь телом, сохраняя душу одинокой.

С определенного возраста при появлении (и уходе) нового мужчины возникает мысль: а вдруг этот - последний? Вдруг никогда больше не случится нового таинства, новой страсти?
Я бы хотела узнать у мужчин, чувствуют ли они так же, да не смею. Каждый раз, когда кто-то говорит: "Ты моя единственная", - мучительно тянет спросить: "Неужели не боишься, что я у тебя последняя?" Жутко ведь - быть приговоренным к одному телу. Как ни одной новой книги прочитать.

I felt that this song by Thåström suited this book. The main line goes "It should have been you" (with "Fan" being the easy-going Swedish equivalent of "Fuck").

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lowbrow literature. It's the new thing.

I've been pigging out. Not in the food department (well, yesterday's vanilla and blueberry rolls may beg to differ), but when it comes to literature.  It all started when a friend of mine said I should probably read 50 Shades of Gray.  I think she wasn't 100% sure of her recommendation since I can be a pretentious bitch when it comes to literature, but whenever someone recommends a book to me, I do try to read it.  I'm not really a fan of reading blurbs or reviews, I just want to know what someone thought about the book, what kind of experience they have while reading it, and decide whether I want to read it based on that.  Since a certain someone had sent me a link to an article dealing with 50 Shades of Gray a month or so earlier, and I knew how popular it was, I decided I just had to read it.

 At least one publisher has understood that
the traditional covers of Romance books are
not helping the genre.

For the first time since I was fifteen I read until late night.  I should perhaps mention that this was during the final exams, and I was bored to death with reviewing Ancient Greek grammar.  Still, I was absolutely consumed by how easy it was to read the book.  Almost everything I read has some kind of educational purpose (fiction included), so I'm used to forcing myself to read another 20 pages before I go to bed.  I'm not used to forcing myself to go to bed. It's not that the books I traditionally read aren't good, but they are definitely the kind you can put down when The Big Bang Theory is on TV.

Once I had finished the first book, I was a bit disappointed since the author took something that could have been very, very good and ruined it.  I still wanted to read things that would keep me glued to my Kindle, since in my dream world, that's where I'm always at (with a drink in my hand), but I usually only find books that entice me to that degree every two or three years. So to hell with prestigious literature. I had my friend dump a dozen or so books on me.  As I mentioned, I did use to read lots and lots of fantasy when I was younger (15 or so), but this stopped after a couple of years, and I never read in that way again.  I gave science fiction a couple of tries, but it never really captured the.  I'm still intent on reading more science fiction, since I don't like to limit myself to a couple of genres.  That's also my goal with this new guilty pleasure reading I'm indulging in: to explore all the sub genres of romance novels.

Now, what is it that separates romance novels from ordinary novels?  I've been wanting to write this post for two weeks or so already, but I wanted to explore the genre more thoroughly before I did so.  I've probably written this post twice in my head already, and both were most likely better than the final result.

People seems to look at the romance genre with distaste, like the soap opera equivalent of literature.  Is this really true?  Is that all it is?  Ordinary books usually have some sort of human relationships in them, quite often a bit of sex (just like a great deal of perfectly respectable movies), even though it may not be very explicit, but they are not placed in the romance genre. In Swedish and Norwegian we have nice derogatory terms for these books: husmorsporno (housewife porn) or tantsnusk (old ladies' filth), which are included in the wider concept of kiosklitteratur (newspaper stand literature). There are many Norwegian additions to this genre, the most famous of which may be Margit Sandemo's Isfolket-series, comprising 40+ books about a family line with some special... skills. It spans several centuries and deals with Scandinavian history at the same time. It was immensely popular when it was written, and almost everyone in Scandinavia knows what it is. It sold more than 25 million copies. There are several of these series in Norway, and they are so easy to read.  You pick one book up, and put it down when you finish it. But you kind of keep it to yourself, unless you're 12. The general plot of Isfolket is the following (from Wikipedia): "The Ice People are cursed with a terrible forefather, Tengel the Evil, whose actions resulted in at least one cursed individual being born in every generation. The cursed individuals were born with magical and mystical abilities, but also the potential for bottomless evil. They have yellow eyes, malformed shoulder blades and Mongol features. Some cursed individuals fight their tendency for evil, whilst others embrace it."

This here... is a serious dose of nostalgia.
You used to be able to subscribe to these books
and get one every month. Perhaps you still can.

Back to the question, what is it that makes these books Romance novels?  Is it because they only revolve around love?  They don't. Just look at the Isfolket-series. The genre has a myriad of sub-genres, and usually, there is quite a lot of plot involved. It is not simply man meets woman, man and woman hooks up.  There's always a twist, there's always a bigger picture.  The bigger picture is not always carried out artfully, and the writing may not be the best there is, but it sure does suck you in.  If you start browsing lists on Goodreads, you soon realize the extreme amount of books out there that are all subsumed under the label romance. I do think that the only concrete thing they have in common is explicit sex. Very explicit sex.

I've set out to check all of these sub-genres, and I am having such a good time.  I think my favourite so far this m-m romance. Quite frankly, reading about two men is much more interesting than reading about a man and a woman.  I am quite certain that the m-m sub-genre also has its annoying stereotypes, but since I haven't read more than two books yet they have not started to annoy me.  The female stereotypes in general romance books does.  Easily breakable, scatterbrained and helpless virgins, anyone?  No thank you.  Other sub-genres I am dwelving into are para-natural (parts of which I would personally deem science fiction), steampunk, vampire/werewolf, suspense. Some of these have much more interesting female characters, so *hint*, stay away from the too mainstream ones. 

One thing that is quite easily identifiable in these books is that, in general, what you expect to happen, or rather, what you want to happen, will happen. A counter example would be Ayn Rand's books where you think that "this or that just has to be sorted out" and it never happens and there is misery for 10 years, and you kind of feel like that's against some sort of law of literature. It's the kind of thing you would never see in a Hollywood movie.  When you read a romance novel, you get what you want, quite often including a happy ending, but not always.  Getting what you want may get boring in the long run, and many of the endings do get on my nerves. One Goodreads member distastefully called the 50 Shades epilogue in book three a "carebear epilogue" and I think that fits very, very many epilogues and endings in general. The problem may be that the authors, some of them actually very good, know that they are writing to a certain audience, and that they will be marketed towards this particular audience (hence the god-awful covers that scare anyone with an ounce of self-respect away). So they start out their books very well, often with great stories, but somewhere in the middle, they seem to think "ah well, now I have to conform to what people expect" and it all goes according to a not that very interesting pattern. Problems are intricately built up throughout the book and then solved in two pages, there's a happy couple and talk of babies, and the book is over. And I often want to throw up. Instead, I pick up the next book, so obviously, they are doing something right. I just wish that some of them could be a little bit more bold, and I will keep reading until I find some that are. 

Anyone who got curious about this little hobby of mine can check out my dedicated shelf on Goodreads (of which all are not new, since this includes classic erotica as well).

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Legend of Princess Olga.

For the longest time I've had the intention of seeing the movies I have that deal with the early Rus'. I've read some of the texts from the Primary Chronicle, but it's difficult to keep track of who is who, and movies or works of literature usually do help with this problem. Finally, I watched one of these movies (and I intend to watch more of them before my exam).

This movie deals with the life of Olga, who ruled in Kiev after her husband Igor (son of Rjurik, the first of the Rjurik Dynasty) had been killed by the Drevlyans. Her son Svjatoslav was only a couple of years old at the time, so she was "queen" for some time. The main character of the movie is the son of Svjatoslav, Volodimir, who is the person who christened Rus' in 988. Olga, who died in 969, had already adopted Christianity. The tale of the choice of religion is another legend altogether (and a quite amusing one, where the famous quote that Russians cannot live without drinking is uttered by Volodmir, explaining why he did not choose Islam). At the end of that text, there is an interesting quote: Всякъ бо члвкъ ащє оукусит сладка послѣди горєсти не приимаєть, тако и мы не имамъ сде быти. Отвѣщавшє жє болярє рєкшє "аще бы лихъ законъ грєчьскии, то нє бы баба твоя прияла Ольга, яжє бѣ мдрѣиши всѣх члвкъ", For every man who tastes sweetness will not take bitterness afterwards, and as such we can not be here. The Bulgarians replied, saying "If the Greek law had been evil, then your grandmother Olga, who was the wisest of all men, would not have taken it".

In the movie, Volodimir is dyeing, and as he is raving in fever on his deathbed, he goes back into his memories, relives his childhood and in his childhood he is taken even further back through the stories of his mother and of a Greek monk, who both tell the tale of Olga, his grandmother.

The Legend of Olga, or the tale of Olga in the manuscript, deals with what happened after the death of Igor (her husband). Igor went to collect tribute from the Drevlyans, a Slavic tribe living in forest areas. After having received his tribute, he got too greedy, and went back to collect even more - and was killed for it. The Drevlyans send emissaries to Olga, asking her to marry their king, Mal. She pretends to agree (оужє мнѣ мужа своєго нє крѣсити, I will not be able to bring back my husband to life) in order to avenge herself on them, something she does in four steps. First she buries the emissaries alive in their boat (Viking style), and sends a message to the Drevlyans asking them to send a more glorious expedition than the previous in her honour. When they arrive, she burns them alive in the banja (sauna). Then she goes to the Derevljans herself, with the supposed goal of having the trizna (funeral feast) in honour of Igor on the place where he was killed. When they are all drunk, she has her druzhina cut them down (5000 of them, supposedly). Finally, she goes back to Kiev and sends an army (or something of the kind) to their descendants. There's also talk of her burning their city, something that is brought up in the movie.

I'm somewhat disappointed with my problems understanding all of what was said in Легенда о княгине Ольге. It was especially difficult when the "dreamy" voice of the mother of Volodimir was retelling the past. I do hope she was deliberately using old-fashioned speech and that that is why it was difficult. If I hadn't read the tale of Olga in the original Old Slavic, I probably wouldn't have understood the part recited by the Greek monk in the first part of the movie either, which is the actual text in the Primary Chronicle. In the movie, there is some controversy about where Olga was born (she is believed to be from the Pskov area, but who knows), what she really did, and to add some spice to the story there's a tale about a lover she had previous to Igor and how she volunteers (eh, I think she volunteers) to be sacrificed to the Pagan Gods when she believes him to be dead... This is not present in the monk's tale of Olga, he only tells of her revenge. Svjatopolk does not believe what the monk has written about his mother's bloodthirsty nature, because that is not what he remembers. He asks the monk if the text will always be like this, or if it will change, and since it will not change he burns the book. It seems like Volodimir actually had the monk hanged, but I'm not sure I understood why exactly. Frustrating. He didn't understand it either when he sees the ghost of the monk prior to dyeing, if that helps. I got that much.

Doesn't the actress playing Olga look very much like Eva Green?

Monday, April 9, 2012


First - the few photos I took when it wasn't snowing.

I love everything that looks like this.

Tallinn does have that Russian feel, and you do find Russian cafés with all your typical tarts and cakes. You also find these kinds of café's, which to me feel extremely "hip-Scandinavian". Everything is 10 times as expensive in these kinds of cafés. Of course.

English-inspired pub. I love the straightforward wine menu, and the clock to the left. I had at least two raspberry beers and one cherry beer here. Stuff you don't find in Norway! Here we also met some people who took us to local bars, the kind that doesn't close (and that doesn't have any signs signalling they are actually there), until five in the morning।

View over Tallinn.

Every time I go on a holiday, I always end up with feet that hurt. You aren't that very sure about the public transport system, so you end up walking a lot more than you usually do, and you usually do this for several days in a row. You can however visit Tallinn without any excessive strain on your feet, because the city is tiny! Well, I'm sure it isn't actually that small, but when it's constantly snowing or raining, you don't necessarily go that far outside of the city center.

I like Tallinn. In the old city you get that medieval feeling, very similar to the Old Town in Stockholm, just bigger and better, and outside of it, you get that same feeling as in Russia. Perfect. There's even a Russian market, Russian book stores and lots of Russian food! If there's something to say about Tallinn, it's that in this city they can brew coffee and cook absolutely delicious food! I don't think I've ever visited any place where the coffee has been as good (the worst place for coffee EVER is Paris, Oslo is half decent, St. Petersburg is expensive and not very good and Kiev is just fine, just to mention a couple of cities).

Things that you have to visit if you go to Tallinn: the Nevsky Cathedral, the Russian market, Boheem café, Town Hall medieval pub (very good food and beer!) and Kompressor (best pancakes ever).

Funny thing about my trip to Tallinn is that it has rekindled my interest for Hungarian. In a Russian bookstore (or rather, the Russian part of a big Estonian bookstore) I found a series of Ilya Frank reading method books, and not in the typical, boring languages, but in Arabic, Turkish and Hungarian! Even though they were somewhat costly, I had to get the Hungarian one, and I can't wait to start reading it! The method more or less consists in a text, where you first have a sentence in Hungarian, then in Russian within brackets, with some small comments when necessary, and then the same passage again entirely in Hungarian. It helps you read things without the use of a dictionary, and you can just read the all Hungarian text and check if you got it right by then consulting the interlaced text. Quite handy.

I also managed to read some books during my trip, and I thought I'd give them short reviews here.

Embers by Sándor Márai.

This book starts off a bit weak, but then it gains something with every page. It's like a mini mystery, where you know that something has happened, that someone is perhaps dead and that this has had an immense impact on the main character, but you have no idea what actually happened, and the story unfolds mainly through a monologue. This book should be read rather quickly I think, so that you more or less stay in real time with the dialogue/monologue that unfolds the mystery.

Джаз-банд на Карловом мосту by Дина Рубина.

I kind of liked На солнечной стороне улицы, even though it had its faults. This book mostly has faults. There is one brief passage in the beginning, dealing with Kafka and letters written to and from Kafka (i.e. not written by the author) which are interesting. Anything she has written herself is just crap. This book is supposed to be a recollection of journeys to different countries, something about the atmosphere or soul of each place. I think that was supposed to be the point. Instead, it's the arrogant bragging of a mediocre Russian author (who has published 40 books! Who is invited to hold lectures! Who understands people in any language without actually knowing the language, just through her superior ability to communicate! Who loves to bring up the martyrdom of the Jews every chance she gets and who has absolutely no idea how to use punctuation!). I hate this book so much that I actually didn't read the last 15 pages and left it on the bed in the hostel in Tallinn.

Monsieur Vénus by Rachilde.

This could have been quite good. I had never heard of Rachilde before, and I kind of suspected that was because she wasn't actually a good writer. Kind of like Marquis de Sade; she can't write, but she writes about scandalous things, so she gets famous anyway. This book (from 1884) about a woman, who is perhaps more like a man, who meets a man, who is perhaps more like a woman, does have some interesting things in it, and it wasn't boring to read, but sometimes it just embarrassingly melodramatic and weird.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Closely related languages. Ups and downs.

People often ask me if studying Ukrainian is confusing considering I study Russian as well (but no one ever asks this question regarding Norwegian and Swedish, and I don't really know why). Actually, it is a bit confusing. Many seem to think that since Ukrainian is so similar to Russian, it should be extremely easy to learn. I'm not sure those people have ever tried learning a closely related language, but if they haven't, they should give it a try. Some parts of it are obviously easier, such as shared vocabulary and grammatical structures, but the spelling can really get to you. It's the same thing for both Russian/Ukrainian and Swedish/Norwegian: almost every word that is of common origin is spelled somewhat differently. You will always understand the word, and for Ukrainian you can almost all of the time also understand what case it is in (even though there are confusing cases, like prepositional -ому, genitive -у and probably some other things that I have forgotten), so you don't actually have to learn these forms to be able to understand them both written and in speech. But in order to use them yourself... you know what word to use, you just don't know where the damned ь і ї will go this time!

Pronunciation is also a source of confusion, since Ukrainian е is pronounced like Russian э, and Ukrainian є is pronounced like Russian е, and Ukrainian и like Russian ы, etc. All of a sudden I find myself reading "развытые" instead of "развитие" out loud... And keeping track of all those non-palatalized consonant+е combinations in Ukrainian can be really tricky!

Today, however, I think I experienced problems writing in Russian for the first time. I caught myself adding third person singular/plural -ть endings instead of -т (формы изменяються, употребляються) all over the place, and of course while using a pen you can't erase. What is having the greatest impact on my Russian writing is the Greek alphabet though. I find myself unable to write small Russian Д and Ф. I have to start Р from the bottom all the time (compulsively) since that is how I do it in Greek, and that makes me confused and makes me go "wait... how did I use to write Р?" (answer: I have no idea!!). Especially trying to copy out a text in Russian explaining Ukrainian grammar with a Greek ghost hanging over me has had catastrophic results.

I've had a frustrating day (year, life?).

On the whole, I would say that I'm quite discouraged by how slowly I am learning Ukrainian. I know I should take into consideration that I have very little time for it. I usually don't manage to prepare anything for my language tandem meetings, so we only end up chatting, something I'm not convinced is very efficient for learning. I will continue struggling though, today with the use of the site http://tyzhden.ua/History/ and http://www.lnu.edu.ua/lknp/mova/in/ser/main1.html.

This is an interesting video in Russian/Ukrainian on Ukrainians living in Norway (thanks to Vera who showed it to me!):

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just what I needed!

I love it when you go to a flea market, find 11 books in like 10 minutes and your friend does not go "should you really buy that many books?" but instead says "should I help you carry that?", and the guy selling them agrees to give them all to you for some eight euros. Heaven.

As we left, I saw a huge room with more boxes of books through the window. Walking away was hard, but necessary.

And I forgot to look for the things I went there for.


And I have no idea why Blogger turns the picture around. It has never done it before. Any ideas?

Donna Tartt - The Secret History. I have read and loved it twice, but never owned it. Now I have a tattered Norwegian copy.

Karen Armstrong - A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Looked really interesting.

Anne B. Ragde - Berlinerpoplene & Eremittkrepsene. Very famous Norwegian books that I haven't read.

Emmanuel Carrère - D'autres vies que la mienne. I've read Carrère before, before being fluent in French. I thought I should try another one now that I will understand 100%.

Morris Bishop - The Penguin Book of the Middle Ages. This just looked interesting.

Sándor Márai - Embers. I've been wanting to read something Hungarian for a long time.

Herta Müller - The Land of Green Plums and Even Back Then, the Fox Was the Hunter. Ever since she won the Nobel Prize and I heard of her I've been interested in reading some of her books.

Kazuo Ishiguro - Never Let Me Go. A friend of mine read this book recently and really liked it, and I haven't read anything by Ishiguro at all.

Monique Truong - The Book of Salt. I get the impression I see this book everywhere and I took that as a sign.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


My Greek glass is made up of a variety of people. Some students are on the Antiquity bachelor and need either Latin or Ancient Greek, others are aspiring archaeologists, and some are just nerds. Half the group has already disappeared, and I think quite a lot of people thought they had signed up for a class in modern Greek, something that doesn't exist at Oslo University. The other day in Greek class I overheard a conversation between some girls. They were talking about loud neighbors.

GIRL 1: ..and the funny thing is that when they speak English, they speak like normal people, but as soon as they speak their made up language, they are extremely loud!
GIRL 2: Made-up language...?
GIRL 1: All languages you don't understand are like made-up languages. *duh*

The word she used for made-up language was "tullespråk", something that is a bit difficult to translate. Roughly it's "joke language", because to "tulle" is to make jokes. Examples of tullespråk are when Scandinavians add -ur to all their words and pretend they're speaking Icelandic, or add ge- to any verb and place it at the end of the sentence, pretending it's German. Or just completely made-up language, like the "Russian" in Tingeling.

At first when I heard this conversation, I got a bit annoyed, because it sounded slightly disrespectful. Then I realized how extremely appropriate it was to have such a conversation in Greek class, since the Greeks called their enemies barbarians. "Barbar-" sounded to them like incomprehensible babbling, and that was what the Persians etc. produced when speaking. In a similar vein, the Slavs called Western Europeans "mute" since they couldn't understand what they said. (Немцы has not always been used to refer to Germans, but to papal emissaries, Swedes, etc.) Oh, the joys of ethnocentrism!

Studying Ancient Greek is highly satisfactory, since all of a sudden you know where a huge amount of common Western words come from (and this idea of "pure" languages and "pure" nationalities seems even more ridiculous than it previously did), and you are able to progress very quickly since you don't have to worry that much about actually speaking the language or composing your own texts. When I study Ukrainian, I don't worry that much about learning paradigms. I usually understand the form of a word anyway; I just encounter problems when I have to produce them myself. I hope that this will eventually sort itself out with increased exposure. I have lots of paradigms to learn for ancient Greek though, so I bought an overly girlish book today to fill this purpose!

Third week texts. Awesome.

My new best friend, and my more serious notebook.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A.S. Byatt - Possession

I finished a book that could have been quite spectacular. It deals with classic literature, a mystery and a pair of academics. They're all obsessed with a great English Victorian writer and/or his wife and a less known female poet. How can that go wrong? I'm not saying it went wrong, I just didn't fall in love with the book. I found it while browsing a list of long books worth the effort on Goodreads. First I wanted to read The Historian, but after reading some reviews where people went on about how historically incorrect it was, I decided not to read it. So I settled for Possession.

I like the book, it was interesting and the story is good, but it's full of boring poetry that I was completely unable to read and that went on for pages and pages and pages... The other parts I enjoyed. It's a dual story, so if you don't like the characters in the 20th century, you may at least like the ones in the 19th.

Since I've been listening to music from the movie Drive (absolutely beautiful movie, but not suitable for people who can't stand blood) recently I couldn't help but team up this song with this book:

Desiree's Under Your Spell

Some people can't read with music. I guess that must be the kind of people who actively listen to lyrics. I don't, so I prefer to listen to music when I study and read literature. Sometimes I end up matching songs with books. For some reason, Aqua's Good Morning Sunshine goes along with The Valley of Horses (Auel) that I read and loved when I was 11. Tears Never Dry (Stephen Simmonds) matches up with Mother Earth Father Sky by Sue Harrison. I know there must be many more, but I've forgotten them. These songs end up being like a soundtrack.

Anyway, I actually started watching the movie Possession from 2002, but only saw 30 minutes or so. If a movie bores me I have no problem at all shutting it off. Watching movies is not an accomplishment, reading books is, so generally I finish books even if they bore me. I think I shut off something like a third of the movies I watch though. Therefore I can't really say all that much about this movie, other than that it seemed silly in a way the book wasn't.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm really not good at updating.

As usual, I spent most of Christmas worrying about the things I had to do for the next term. Difficult books to read and all that, whereas all I wanted to read was fiction. And I did read some books, The Thornbirds and Wild Seed, both of which I recommend. For those of you who don't already know what the first one is about, suffice it to know that it's an old-fashioned epic drama of the kind that can't go wrong. The second is a somewhat more curious book, about immortality and what it does to morality. I have read some other books as well, but nothing worth commenting on just yet. If I don't get overwhelmed with university in the next couple of days I will try to write a bit about some other books as well.

Good stuff.

My classes haven't actually started, but since I have a very good supervisor for my master's thesis, I'm actually starting to work on it now and not in the fall, when I'm supposed to start. I'm planning to go spend the fall in the Ukraine with a friend of mine, so naturally it would be a good idea to get the work started already at this early stage. This means I'm reading far heavier books than those previously mentioned, like Christopher Lyon's Definiteness and Michael Flier's Aspects of Nominal Determination in Old Church Slavic. Naturally, it's quite frightening. I haven't written anything beyond 25 pages so far during my time as a student, and now I am going to write my master's thesis on long form and short form adjectives and participles in Old Church Slavonic. I'm also annotating a new saint vitae from Codex Suprasliensis for the corpus that I get my data from, Житие и страдание святого мученика Конона Исаврийского.

That's in addition to my classes, which are Variants of Russian, Russian written culture - origins and history up until the 18th century, and a double class on ancient Greek! I hope all of this won't be too overwhelming. I have a goal of reading 35 books this year and on keeping up learning Ukrainian very slowly. Writing this out I feel the need for a second glass of wine, and perhaps a whiskey (cheap, of course, I am but a student).

Today I got myself a second desk! I'm very thrilled about it, because ever since I got my first desk (and I was very happy about having a desk at last after having lived in tiny apartments in Oslo), the entire surface has always been covered by my huge keyboard, my ergonomic mouse, my laptop and my extra monitor. So I end up studying on the sofa. And falling asleep. In our new apartment, my office is so big I can have two desks, a cupboard, a bookshelf and still fit in a guest bed when someone comes to visit (something that never happens, but it may). Fabulous, isn't it? The best part is that I can avoid the awful assigned seats at University for master students, that you have to apply for and go to four times a week if you don't want to lose them. You find them in small rooms with bad ventilation and you sit at half a meter's distance from the next person. And you can't eat, drink, play music and all that. How can people study in that kind of environment?

Much better.