Russian literature quiz

Match the titles of the books with their corresponding first line.

  1. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  2. Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.
  3. On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.
  4. Towards the end of November, during a thaw, at nine o’clock one morning, a train on the Warsaw and Petersburg railway was approaching the latter city at full speed.
  5. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste, I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a man’s soul and faith.
  6. In the big building of the Law Courts, during a break in hearing the case of the Molinsky’s, the members and the prosecutor met in Ivan Yegorovich Shehek’s office, and the conversation turned on the celebrated Krasovski case.
  7. It was a wonderful night, such a night as is only possible when we are young, dear reader.
  1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights
  2. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  3. Mikhail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita (trick question, this is the opening of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, which is based on this book)
  4. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
  5. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  6. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  7. Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ylich

Answers: 1-B, 2-E, 3-F, 4-D, 5-C, 6-G, 7-A

How did you do? As you can see this is a thorough test of your knowledge of Russian literature. In reality, it is a test of my knowledge (or lack thereof) of Russian literature, since these are the only books by Russian authors that I have read.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Having said this and confessed my weak literacy in this deep ocean of work, I love what little I have read of Russian literature. In fact, at one point, I naively fancied doing my PhD in Comparative Lit. studying Spanish and Russian. Granted, this thought only lasted until I realized there was no way I was going to learn Russian in any level required to pursue a PhD, so… about 15 seconds (yes, I am a bit slow).

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

One of the many reasons I love Russian Literature are the many links to my beloved Don Quixote. While this is not unusual, think of Moby Dick, Madame Bovary, and authors like Unamuno, Graham Greene, Foucault, and now even Salman Rushdie! Dostoevsky is clearly and heavily influenced by The Knight of Sad Countenance. Oh by the way, if you this will not be a profound, critical literary analysis, just my chaotic ramblings, sorry.

“No one’s fate is of any interest to you except your own.”

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

My first dip into Russian literature was, predictably, War and Peace which blew my mind. The intricacy of the descriptions, the narrative arc, the character development, the whole package! Tolstoy puts you in 19th C. Russia, down to the smells, the samovar ritual, the clothes, the temperatures, etc.

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Then came The Death of Ivan Ylich and my mind was blown even further. Here was all the richness of War and Peace, but in a short story. Crime and Punishment came in 2007, and at this point there was little of my mind that had not been blown to smithereens! In my opinion this is a psychological thriller at its best! If Tolstoy puts you in Russia, Dostoevsky puts you inside Raskolnikov’s mind!

“Beauty will save the world”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

A couple of years later my dear friend Irina recommended Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and I was just flabbergasted, bowled over, dumfounded. This is deep, funny, magical, wonderful reading.

Anna Karenina, I found more personal than War and Peace, it struck a chord in my heart, not only in my mind. Basically, a similar narrative arc, character development, etc. of War and Peace, but from a much more intimate, psychological perspective.

And now, I just started Dostoevsky’s The idiot. The start is promising, to begin with, there is a narrator interrupting the narrative. I love it and will keep you posted (if I have any brain left to write).

PS: I did not forget Chekhov. But as we say in Spain, that is flour from another sack…

Please leave any comments and recommendations below!!

Books, books, books

Some of the books I had lying around

Some of the books I had lying around

Locked up at home during the Coronavirus quarantine, I get to read a lot, which got me thinking of books This blog exists because of books. You see, I started this blog to report my Harley-Davidson trip visiting universities across the South for my PhD in Spanish Literature, that is: books. Yes, I am addicted to books. Having said that, I am a slow reader. So, while I enjoy books, I do not devour books like some folks do. Anyway let’s start at the beginning:

My first blurry memories of reading are of Enid Blyton, I guess like millions of children. Fortunately in high school, I had the privilege of being taught by Mrs. Soledad Sprackling. And my mind exploded with what she had me read: Borges, Neruda, Lorca, et al. That was it, I was hooked. In college my super cultured friend Silvia Velez introduced me to Gabriel García Márquez and my mind exploded again! It has been a series of explosions since.

Luckily I can read in Spanish, English and French and find it very frustrating when I cannot read every book in the original language it was written in. In fact, when I was twirling about with the idea of getting my PhD, I wanted to study comparative lit Spanish / Russian, but there was no way I was going to learn that level of Russian in a hurry, so that was the end of that thought. Miguel de Unamuno, one of my literary heroes actually learnt Danish so he could read Kierkegaard, bastard.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books with only number 1 in a clear position – all the rest vary according to the day you ask me:

  1. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote. I have only read it three times, once with the amazing Prof. Louise Cohen. She shared with me her passion for this book, which I have written about in previous posts.
  2. Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Montecristo. Love, adventure, revenge, massive wealth, what’s not to like?
  3. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina / War and Peace / Death of Ivan Ilyich. Tough call on this one…
  4. Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. It takes a foreigner to describe Spain with such precision. High School is also where I got hooked on Hemingway.
  5. Gabriel García Marquez – Cien Años de Soledad (But really any by him). Of course, nowadays, I keep thinking of Love in the Times of Cholera
  6. Voltaire – Candide. Possibly the best satire ever written?
  7. Miguel de Unamuno – San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Proto-existentialism at its best!
  8. Mikhail Bulgakov – Master and Margarita. Or as the Rollings Stones interpreted it: Sympathy for the Devil
  9. Francisco de Isla – His early works. After all, I am the leading authority on the subject…

Of course, there are many, many more, but I don’t want to bore you, dear reader, any more.

Interestingly, my last read was. The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh which was recommended to me (like so many more) by my dear friend Patxi. It is about the spiritual journey of death, and how the best approach to death is meditation. I started reading it before the massive Covid outbreak and it has helped me digest the numbers in the news. I loved it. My next read, to celebrate the centenary of Benito Perez Galdos’ death will be Trafalgar, about the battle of the same name, not the square in London.

There you have it, some thoughts on reading and my some of my favorite books. Which are yours? What do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!!

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read