Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, conclusion

These days, I mostly find surnames from lists, and have moved past randomly choosing them from outdated encyclopedia and picking names in the news. It’s so much easier to do research now. However, I don’t regret giving some of my characters famous names, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s like an Easter egg; e.g., names like Chernomyrdina, Yeltsina, Zyuganov(a), and Yavlinskiy make it pretty obvious how immersed in Russian politics I was in the late Nineties.

I particularly don’t regret giving Lyuba’s stepfather’s family the name Lebedev(a), after Gen. Aleksandr Lebed (1950–2002), the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He had a very strong third-place finish, and was exactly the kind of leader Russia needs. The name means “swan,” which fits the title and symbolism of the first book.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband and son

Gumilyov, the false name Boris claims for himself, Lyuba, Ivan, and Ginny when deserting Bolshevik soldiers visit them in autumn 1917. Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (1886–1921) was a prominent poet of Russia’s Silver Age, and the husband of poet Anna Akhmatova. He was arrested and murdered by the Cheka. His son, Lev (1912–92), was a historian, anthropologist, ethnologist, and Persian translator.

Rhodes, Katrin’s awesome butler. He’s so fun to write. I created him in 2001, and named him around 2012, after Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Scholl, a radical Greenwich Village doctor with an underground clinic, and a lot of courage and compassion. He was named for Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.

Tolstaya, a gymnasium teacher. Obviously after the famous Tolstoy family, titled counts who’ve produced scores of notables over the centuries.

Baryshnikova, wily orphanage girl Klarisa, whom Lena Yeltsina names her first daughter after in gratitude. As an adult, she continues using her skill at forging and double-crossing to help people with defecting. Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov (born 1948) is one of the greatest danseurs in history.

Nureyev, an interrogator in Lubyanka, named after venerable danseur Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (1938–93).

Grinkova, the midwife who serves the fictional Russian–American farming town of Firebird Fields, Minnesota, very near Duluth. Mrs. Grinkova delivers Lyuba’s sixth, seventh, and eighth children, as well as all of Tatyana’s children. She and Ivan frequently trade sharp barbs because of their very different views on Lyuba continuing to have children with her history of high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

In the fourth book, Mrs. Grinkova removes the husband stitches given to Nikolas and Kat’s daughter Raisa against her will. She and Raisa’s future second husband Filaret will come to her rescue near the end of the book, after husband Gustav’s most monstrous act.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Grinkov (1967–95) was the 1988 and 1994 OGM in pairs skating with his wife, Yekaterina Gordeyeva, with whom he also had four World golds, three European golds, one European silver, one World silver, one World Junior gold, and several other assorted golds and silvers. I’ll write a review of the book My Sergei sometime this year.

Aleksandr V. Popov during the 2008 Olympics, Copyright KenChong 一洲

Popov, one of creepy Basil Beriya’s fellow inmates at The Marx Center for the Crazies. He’s convinced he’s Karl Marx. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (born 1971) is widely considered the greatest sprinter in swimming history. He has four OGMs, and two World Championship golds.

Nemova, another fellow inmate, who screams out the Nicene Creed nonstop. Basil is chained to the wall between these people. Aleksey Yuriyevich Nemov (born 1976) is one of the greatest gymnasts of history, with twelve Olympic medals (four of them gold), thirteen World Championship medals (five of them gold), four European Championship medals (three of them gold), and two European Team Championship golds.

House of Zubov coat of arms

Zubov, a former count, WWII Red Army hero, and young widower who moves into the Minneapolis apartment of the unhappily married Raisa and her twin Lyudmila in 1950. Raisa is instantly smitten with the handsome, polite, kind-natured Filaret, and begins dreaming of having an affair.

Filaret treats her twins Diana and Pamela much better than their father Gustav, and his respectful treatment of Raisa is night and day next to the increasingly cruel way Gustav treats her. He and Mrs. Grinkova will come to their rescue towards the end of the fourth book.

Though Zubov is a real noble surname, I also chose this name because of Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich Zubov, the subject of Chapter One of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s Invisible Allies. Dr. Zubov and his wife repeatedly risked their lives to hide his writings, and suffered a lot for their association, but remained loyal allies who refused to betray their friend.

A great story marred by little things

(This review of Anna Karenina is edited down from the 2,224-word post I wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2004.)

My translation: 4 stars

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Translation issues, summed up:

The Louise and Aylmer Maude translation is dreadful. They “translate” names, refuse to use superdiminutives like Katyenka and Dolyenka, use inaccurate transliteration (e.g., Alesha instead of Alyosha), use Russian measurements without properly explaining their conversions in footnotes, and employ outdated language like “to-morrow.”

Particularly goofy is when Levin starts calling Kitty “Kate” after he realises she’s a full, mature woman. Did the Maudes think the nickname Katya were too foreign and confusing for Anglophone readers?!

Tolstoy’s actual material:

This book is for the most part very well-written, but there are parts I could’ve done without—Levin diddering about on his estate, shooting birds, mowing grass, planting crops, pontificating about agriculture, philosophy, and religion; Vronskiy’s horse race; the voting; and the death of Levin’s profligate brother.

Anna and Vronskiy are very draw to one another since meeting, dance all night at a ball, and have engrossing private conversations, but we’re given no motivation for their feelings and illicit affair.

Their so-called love story is rather unconvincing, since it doesn’t delve into their motivations or feelings for one another on a deep level. For two people having an affair, we don’t get any insight into their hearts and minds!

I was disgusted Levin is 32 to Kitty’s 18 when the book starts. Kitty’s also in love with 30-year-old Vronskiy, though he doesn’t realise it and breaks her heart by leaving town. However, Kitty and Levin really did seem to be in love later on and trying to make a happy family.

We know Levin loves Kitty and why, but we don’t get any motivation into why she loves him and accepts his second marriage proposal. I don’t buy a teen girl being head over heels for a guy in his thirties.

Levin talks it over with her dad, and decides to show her his diaries before the marriage so she’ll know all of him. In spite of her religiosity, she doesn’t mind he’s an agnostic, but finding out he’s not a virgin makes her weep. Come on, he’s 33 or 34. It’s hard to believe anyone that old would be a virgin.

Kitty’s family and Levin try to set Kitty’s 20-year-old friend Varyenka up with Levin’s 40-year-old halfbrother Sergey. I was supremely glad when Sergey decided against it, wanting to stay true to the memory of a tragic romance.

The title character only occupies about half the book. Levin’s story is an interesting subplot, but I expect a book carrying a character’s name to be mostly about her. Levin is boring when he’s musing about agriculture, religion, philosophy, and politics. He also starts obsessing about how it’d be better if he were dead.

He’d rather live like a peasant than a rich man. At the beginning of the book, he’s resigned from his seat on his local Zemstvo because he’s sick of politics.

Anna goes mad and becomes depressed. She’s shunned and avoided; spoken of as a vile, terrible woman; left hanging by her jerk husband over whether he’ll grant her a divorce; and legally denied rights to her son. Her husband is legally considered the father of the baby she had with Vronskiy, which means he can take her if anything happens to Anna.

Vronskiy is rather insensitive to the entire situation. He isn’t treated like a pariah. He gets to keep all of his old friends and hangouts. People don’t slander him in the streets or run away from him. He doesn’t seem to grasp what all this is doing to her. He thinks she’s selfish and unreasonable to demand he spend more time with her and be considerate of her feelings.

The famous scene with the train only ends Part Seven, not the entire book. For the next fifty pages, Anna’s barely mentioned. We barely gauge anyone’s reactions to what she did.

The ending was a complete cop-out and very disappointing. It’s supposed to tie up Levin and Kitty’s story, with him struggling to overcome his aversion to making a family life over his morbid musings about death and his boring ones about agriculture. However, I don’t buy Levin suddenly having an epiphany and getting religious faith, after spending the entire book as an agnostic.

Kolyma vs. Archipelago

(This formed the long middle section of my old Angelfire review of Kolyma Tales. It examines in-depth the differences between Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov and Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s depictions of GULAG.)

Shalámov’s wood-cutting partner Garkunov is murdered for his good white sweater in a game of cards, and his only reaction is “Oh well, guess I’ll have to get a new wood-cutting partner.” Compared to how A.I. was very upset when Borís Gammerov and Zhora Ingal, his friends whom he arrived at his first camp with, died soon after their arrival. He even wanted to mark their graves with some of the poetry they had composed during their too-short lifetimes instead of just moving on to find new friends or work partners.

There’s a cat wandering about the hospital in One Day; all the animals in Shalámov’s Hell are eventually killed for their meat and fur. They don’t care that the dog or cat was being friendly with them moments before; they murder these poor defenceless creatures to have meat and warm mittens.

Some things are questionable, though. Shalámov tries to prove, in story after story, that the Medical Section were guardian angels, and were truly looking out for these unfortunates. Granted, his life was saved twice by the Medical Section, but it’s well-known that a lot of camp doctors and medical personnel were first-rate [scumbags] who sent plenty of people to their deaths, through signing death sentences or sending them back out to work in the cold while deathly ill. Just because he had two great life-saving experiences doesn’t mean the majority of camp doctors were these wonderfully beneficent people. Evidence shows they weren’t.

Very questionable is the claim that most women were prostitutes. Women in Kolyma were rare, and you’re telling me that of that small minority, the majority were hookers? Yes, prostitution was declared a crime, and women who were caught were sent to prison and camps, but that doesn’t mean the majority of zechki were hookers! The great majority of the prisoner were “politicals,” convicted under the infamous Article 58, not career criminals or thieves.

It’s true that when women arrived, the trusties looked them over and propositioned their favourites. If the woman knew what was good for her, she agreed to it for better living conditions and treatment. But not all women decided to sleep with the trusties. They weren’t forced to do anything. I have no doubt that a lot of the real criminals did have mistresses, but Shalámov claims they were prostitutes, and were often traded off to new criminal owners. He claims that a criminal could sleep with any woman, but a female criminal (of which there weren’t very many) would be shunned if she slept with a non-criminal.

There were a lot of camp romances and even “camp spouses,” but that was voluntary. The criminals were complete [scumbags] and very sadistic, but I don’t think they treated women the way Shalámov describes. Since women were so rare in Kolyma, they were usually raped, so I don’t doubt his assertion that rapes and gang-rapes were common. It was in Kolyma, in fact, that the term “streetcar” to describe gang-rape originated.

It’s probably true that most of the career criminals wanted their sons to follow in their footsteps, but is it really true that they wanted their daughters to be prostitutes, and if they wouldn’t be, they shunned or beat them? In Archipelago, A.I. barely mentions homosexual activity. Some of the thieves did keep young boys for the purposes of pederasty, but I doubt it was that widespread as Shalámov claims, nor that the thieves also would rape little girls, sometimes as young as three.

Lesbianism also arose among the zechki, when they were in a female-only camp and were very lonely and hungry for love. That’s about the only times homosexuality gets mentioned there, and even then not much space is devoted to mentioning these occasional instances. Shalámov claims most of the criminals were gay, and that they went by girly nicknames without shame and had feminine voices to boot.

In his long chapter on the thieves, A.I. never even mentions what Shalámov claims was widespread, that the criminals had sex with one another and gave everyone venereal diseases. There were some camps with many cases of venereal diseases, but that doesn’t mean every single camp was that way. I have no doubt that he did experience this, but you can’t honestly take some isolated incidents in certain camps and then claim it was like that all over the Kolyma! Oh yeah, and if these guys were such flaming fruits, then why were they “married” to women and enjoying such healthy sex lives with them!?

Top Ten Tuesday—Intro to Russian Lit and Historical Fiction

If you’re observing Tisha B’Av, may you have an easy and meaningful fast!

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read X (examples: New Adult novels, historical fiction, a certain author, books about a certain topic, etc). My two great literary loves are Russian literature and historical fiction, so I’m doing a half and half list.

Russian Lit:

1. We, by Yevgeniy Ivanovich ZamyatinNot only is this a criminally underrated dystopia (a real dystopia, as in utopian society gone creepily wrong), but it’s also the most un-Russian Russian novel I can think of. It’s extremely short, able to be read in a day, and barely has any hints it’s set in Russia. There’s a bust of Pushkin in the Ancient House and a babushka-like old woman. Other than that, this book could really be set anywhere. I did a paper for my Modern Russian Lit class my junior year of university, comparing and contrasting We and Brave New World.

2. Just about any collection of stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. My first Chekhov story was “The Ninny,” in my seventh grade English class, but I didn’t read him again till January 1996, when I was sixteen. I totally wolfed down the story collection I found on my parents’ shelves, and have wolfed down every single story collection of his I’ve read ever since. He was a master of the short form, though a few stories, like “The Duel,” are novella-length.

3. A Sportsman’s Sketches, by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. This fine short story collection gained him wide recognition and acclaim, and is a great example of his talent at the short form. His stories and novels, like Chekhov’s, often have depressing ends, but he wouldn’t be the same writer if he’d written mostly happy endings. Turgenev had such a sensitive, poetic soul.

4. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Afanasiyevich Bulgakov. This story is so fun, witty, satirical, and irreverent. It’s not for the easily-offended, but the political and religious commentary are part of the overall story, not just put in to be shocking or offensive. Avoid the Michael Glenny translation like the plague. He was a horrible translator.

5. The First Circle, by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, of blessèd memory. This was my introduction to my favouritest writer, since the more popular One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich wasn’t at the library. I wolfed it down, and have continued to wolf down everything he’s ever written. It’s amazing to think about how he kept this book, and many other novels, stories, and plays, memorised in his head for so many years in the camps, before he was finally at relative liberty to write them down.

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Historical fiction:

6. Maisie Mosco’s 5-book family saga, starting with Almonds and Raisins. I found these books in my original shul’s library at age 19-20, and wolfed them down (though it really pissed me off how Sarah interfered in her children’s love lives!). The best are the first three, Almonds and Raisins, Scattered Seed, and Children’s Children. I didn’t read the fourth book, Out of the Ashes, but I thought the final book, New Beginnings, wasn’t quite as compelling or epic. It starts in 1905 and focuses on the Russian Sandberg family and the Austrian Moritz family, immigrants in Manchester, England.

7. Out of This Furnace, by Thomas Bell. Shameless plug for just about the only historical novel (or novel period) about Slovaks. I’m a quarter Slovak, my real surname is Slovak, being part Slovak is a big part of who I am. (FYI: Czechs and Slovaks are not one and the same, just as Russians and Ukrainians or Chinese and Japanese aren’t one and the same!) It emotionally gutted me to read about how my not so distant ancestors were treated when they came to the U.S. I am so grateful my great-grandparents’ generation got out of that furnace and enabled a better life for future generations.

8. Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse. This is really more of a literary novel than a historical, but it’s still set in Medieval Germany. It might be a good introduction for people feeling overwhelmed by traditional historicals with their hundreds of pages, myriads of storylines, and huge ensemble casts. Art also plays a big part in this book.

9. The Ausländer, by Paul Dowswell. I’ve totally raved about this book numerous times before. This is YA historical done right, with the history more than just a minor backdrop to a teen’s story. Mr. Dowswell did an awesome job at researching his setting, and even though it’s under 300 pages, it doesn’t feel short, rushed, or insubstantial at all. There are also not too many WWII books about ordinary Germans.

10. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel. It’s based on a real-life incident about a group of brave Armenians who fought back against the Turkish genocide committed against their people in 1915. Many people aren’t familiar with the Armenian Genocide, let alone historicals set in this part of the world or featuring Armenians. (If anyone reading this denies the Armenian Genocide, you can go screw yourself. This is established historical fact, not “Armenian allegations” or Turk-bashing.)

Top Ten Tuesday—Most-Owned Authors

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From. I’m going to do my list as a photo montage, since I love photography.

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As much as I love the late Mr. Uris’s historicals. I have to be honest and admit he wasn’t the world’s greatest writer. He was an awesome storyteller and did amazing historical research, but subtlety wasn’t exactly his strong suit. I see him as an average to slightly above average writer who had a very good editor. Even in spite of his editor, though, he still needed to step away from the exclamation point key and make his heroes more realistic instead of so good-looking, very tall, and larger than life.

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Hermann Hesse is my next-fave writer. I’ve read all his novels and some other prose, though I don’t own all of his books yet. Missing from my shelf are Knulp and The Journey to the East, and his collections of stories and essays.

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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, of blessèd memory, has been my favouritest writer since I was barely sixteen. I positively devour his books, and am still waiting for widely-available English translations of his final novels, March 1917 and April 1917, the last two volumes in his massive Red Wheel saga. (Shameless self-promotion: I won the new, unexpurgated translation of The First Circle for writing the winning short story for a contest by the blog YA Stands.)

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I found these in the free bin at one of my local libraries, and thought they’d be great potential resources for researching the Marine chapters of my WIP.

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There are a couple of authors represented several times on this section of the shelf, and if you’re wondering, yes, I have a lot more Shoah memoirs and novels on other shelves. With all due respect to Ruth Minsky Sender, however, I just didn’t find her memoirs as compelling or interesting as most of the other Shoah memoirs I’ve read.

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Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is my third-fave writer, and Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev is my fourth-fave writer. The old green book is a 1944 printing of Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber, with the text printed on two columns on thin pages. I assume it was because of wartime paper shortages.

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I love Bertolt Brecht. I even did my big literature paper in my twelfth grade English AP class on him. This shelf also contains one of the biggest steals I ever got, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s awesome Confessions, which I got for only fifty cents at a library book sale. Someone there joked I should have to pay more since it’s such an intellectual book.

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I’m currently reading The Winds of War, after having my reading of it interrupted very prematurely in the wake of my car accident eleven years ago. I got it for a buck at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is the kind of historical I’m used to reading, and which I base my own writing on—ensemble casts, third-person omniscient, more about the journey through dramatic historical events instead of fast-paced and plot-centric, hundreds upon hundreds of pages. May the 99-year-old Mr. Wouk live and be well!

I’ve also got some repeat authors in storage by my parents’ house, like Ann M. Martin and Laura Ingalls Wilder.