Posts Tagged 'ABBA'

Grammar Nazis

Cultured conversation

Cultured conversation

A sign from a Lviv trolleybus window. Printed by the nationalist political party Svoboda, it is instructions in public transport etiquette: how to buy a ticket, ask the driver to stop and so on in polite, correct Ukrainian.

“This may be a case when the term ‘grammar Nazi’ isn’t exactly an exaggeration,” a non-Ukrainian friend commented when he saw it.

I saw this sign during a recent visit for the annual Lviv Publisher’s Forum. It made me think about the line between being proud of one’s language and heritage, and wanting to impose it on those from other heritages. Much of the Publisher’s Forum was about cultural exchange and translation, a celebration of how literature can bridge national divides. But this year, for the first time in 23 years, Russian publishers were not invited to attend.

Russian and Russian-language books, publishers and bookshops have dominated the Ukrainian literary market for two decades. But when does pride and protectionism become chauvinism and censorship? Does wanting to protect one’s own language, and encouraging people to speak it correctly and beautifully, make someone a ‘Nazi’?

Read the entire version of this post on ABBA

Other people’s lives

My plea for empathy, over on ABBA today

Photos retrieved by rescue workers from a residential building destroyed by shelling  in Nikolaevka, East Ukraine. Almost two months later, no one has collected them from the grass outside

Photos retrieved by rescue workers from a residential building destroyed by shelling in Nikolaevka, East Ukraine. Almost two months later, no one has collected them from the grass outside

 

“More out of books than out of real life”

This quote, from Russian Menshevik Lydia Dan, is one of the epigraphs to my work in progress (one of them), a novel about Russian and Ukrainian revolutionaries.

Lydia Dan, a nice girl from a nice upper middle class family of Russian Jewish intellectuals, ended up touring Moscow factories agitating for workers rights among people she had barely a common language with, staying the night with prostitutes to avoid being picked up by the secret police, marrying not just one but two revolutionaries, losing her child, choosing the wrong side (Trotsky’s Mensheviks over Lenin’s Bolsheviks), and living long enough to see a revolution she dedicated her life to, turn distinctly sour and bitter.

“As people we were much more out of books than out of real life,” Dan says, in an extended interview with Leopold Haimson published in The Making of Three Russian Revolutionaries. She means that in her young days, she and her fellow idealists who sat up or walked the streets all night discussing the revolution to come, had seen nothing of ‘real life’. They got their world view from reading Marx and Chernyshevsky and Gorky; the first time Dan actually met a real-life prostitute all she could think about were scenes she had read in Maupassant. They were so busy theorizing about the revolution, and inhabiting its weird, underground, anti-social existence of ideas, that they did not know how to hold down a job, pay a bill, mend a coat, look after a baby…

For me, writing about such people a century later, the quote has a second meaning. Dan and her fellow revolutionaries seem to me like characters out of books: utterly recognisable in their loves and hates and idiocies and heroics, but larger than life, more vivid and interesting, coming from a complete and absorbing world that exists safely between the pages. In other words, fictional.

These last few months in Ukraine, I’ve met the contemporary reincarnation of Dan and her fellow revolutionaries. They are here in all their guises: the ones who made bombs and picked up guns, the ones who wrote heartfelt tracts or disseminated poisonously attractive lies, the ones who looked after the poor and the dispossessed, the ones who spied and betrayed, the ones who were ready to die for ‘the people’ and the ones who killed, robbed and tortured people in the name of making a profit.

Again and again, I keep coming across characters who are straight from 1917.

It’s all amazing, amazing material for my novel, of course. But I realise that maybe I am more like Dan than I thought. My ideas for that novel came more out of reading, than from experience: I thought those revolutionaries were safely between the pages. It is terrifying to realise that the people who are now tearing a country I love to pieces, or trying desperately to hold it together, are in fact, much more out of real life than out of books.

This piece also appears on ABBA today

A letter to Morozko

In a shabby, tree-shaded playground on the outskirts of Simferopol, Crimea, two three-year-old boys are playing on a seesaw.

“Ukraine!” shouts Sayid, as his side of the see-saw goes up.

“Russia!” shouts Sergey, as Sayid comes down and Sergey’s side goes up.

“Ukraine!”

“Russia!”

It’s a cute scene, and the mums in the playground are laughing. The two boys live in the same block of flats, and have known each other since they were born. For them, these names of countries are just another game, like the different-coloured flags they’ve both waved sitting on their dads’ shoulders at opposing demonstrations; like the plastic guns they point at each other.

But when Sayid shouts “Ukraine!” and “Down with Putin!” on the bus into town, his mum hushes him up hurriedly, because who knows how people will react, in this town that used to be part of Ukraine two months ago until armed men appeared everywhere and it apparently became part of Russia. She doesn’t want to expose her son to hostile attention. And whatever she thinks about current events, she doesn’t want to teach her child to hate.

Read the rest of this post here on ABBA today

More on IZOLYATSIA

literature, language, industry, art and war, over on ABBA today.

Politics and fairytales

is the subject of my post on ABBA today. In an increasingly politicised and divided Crimea, even fairytales are turning into propaganda.

 

What happened to Utopia?

A conversation with a fourteen-year-old reader inspired my post today on ABBA, about the current vogue for YA dystopian fiction, or ‘dyslit’.

We know the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. When its all bad news, bad news, bad news in fact and in fiction, its hard to remember that the future is not a disaster waiting to happen; the future is what we make of it.

Perhaps I will make it my mission to set a new vogue: for dyslit’s inversion, utolit…


previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


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