I think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something likeI think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like that. It was so beautiful in this delicate, fine-art way, and I was so surprised at this book’s beauty, that I feel totally inadequate in trying to describe my reaction to it. It is that type of beauty I feel when I think about the improbability of our bodies being alive or of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or of microscopic images of snowflakes. There is no way the universe could conspire so delicately for those things to work in such a way that their beauty is not so improbable as to be obscenely contrived, but somehow it does work. It is beautiful.
And now that I’ve compared this book to the Sistine Chapel, there is no way anyone could go into it liking it. It’s like that time this douchey guy told me that Bright Eyes is the new Bob Dylan. I mean, Bright Eyes is not great anyway – talk about being in love with your own mysterious allure – but, compared to Bob Dylan, Mr. Eyes is just embarrassing. So, here I am ruining this book for you like that.
At the same time, after reading this, I understood a lot more why someone would write a book like Olive Kitteridge, using multiple, somewhat unrelated, perspectives strung together by a common theme. While that one just seemed ridiculous, this one soared for me, and I can see how, as an author, you could want to aim for this kind of delicacy in weaving together stories.
I listened to this on audio, and it was like hearing someone describe every way a woman’s love can be beautiful and painful, harsh and delicate. Some books will make me cry, but this book brought me to tears, which is the same thing but more elegant because of this story’s elegance. The reader’s voice was lovely, and the only fault with listening to this on audio was that there was so much I wanted to hear and follow that I know I missed a lot. I usually choose audio books based on the idea that it won’t matter if I space out during the book (because I space out a lot while I’m walking to work and listening to them), so I normally choose a book that I’ve read before or something I don’t think I’ll love that much. I was surprised at how much I loved this one and how much I felt I missed by listening to the audio. It is not a difficult book, but it definitely contains subtlety and passages that I would probably have read over again if I were reading it on the page.
This is not a very exciting review, I think, because it doesn’t contain an exciting story. I have the most wonderful job in the world right now, at which the most amazing things happen, but I can’t talk about it on the internet. And, no, my job is not Fight Club. If I could, I would tell you about how this has probably been the best year of my life so far, and about all of its beauty and fullness, and about how pain is as much a part of the beauty as comfort or wonder are. And I would tell you about the women I have seen and the ways they are with the love in their lives. But, instead, I will just be vague, and say that this book resonated with me both in the year I have had and in the life I have had. It talked about the right things and in the right way.
And, of course, it was about a book, which I imagine is the universal symbol of love....more
The relationship between the Russian language and the English language is one of the most compelling proofs that the universe has a sense of humor (anThe relationship between the Russian language and the English language is one of the most compelling proofs that the universe has a sense of humor (and horror). That, democracy, and snuggies. Grey is the Color of Hope is tragic and compelling enough as a story that saying I didn't like it would be like saying I hate babies or ice cream or what have you. Really, how can you find fault with a prison-camp memoir? "Well, if I was in a prison camp, I would have written something with more sex appeal"? Honestly, though, the translation was so god-awful that it really was slightly painful to read. My Russian is uzhasno anymore, but I wondered part way through if I wouldn't do better with a dictionary and the original language text. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Russian version anywhere (due to a Soviet plot, I'm sure. . . No not really. . . Well, maybe).
Aside from the already daunting challenge of translating everyday Russian into readable English, prison slang was a big part of communicating the feel of Irina Ratushinskaya's experience in Soviet “reeducation” camps. Alyona Kojevnikov, who translated the version of Grey is the Color of Hope that I read (which is actually the only version that exists, as far as I know) did not do a stellar job at this. For example, early on Ratushinskaya relates a few of the common prison terms, one of which was translated as "warmer". Ratushinskaya defines this as “the acquisition of something not officially permitted, such as [the:] exchange of sweets for cigarettes. The first, obvious interpretation strikes me immediately – something to warm the heart” (p. 11). I can get past the use of the word “sweets” by thinking of it as just a word I would never use (unless, of course, I was disguised as an evil witch and trying to lure some unsuspecting kids into my gingerbread house – and even then I would probably say “sweeties”), and by accepting that maybe in some other English-speaking city someone else might use it. The translation of “warmer”, though, was disappointing. I could only imagine that this was one of those charming Russian words that end in nik, like tyeplovnik or something else that sounds really fun. “Warmer” doesn't really convey the sense of usefulness that a word ending in nik has, and also it’s stupid. No badass American prisoner would use the word “warmer”. I admit that it would take some poetic license to come up with a better word that conveys that meaning in English, but come on, Alyona Kojevnikov! Can you stop taking everything so literally, or do I need to call Seamus Heaney in to replace you? (Always time for a Beowulf joke, right?)
That brings up the other point that Ratushinskaya is a poet, and I’m willing to believe that her poetry is touching or beautiful, though the translation did nothing to reveal that. Clearly, the problem is that English is Ms. Kojevnikov’s second language, and translating from a native language to a second language awkward. So much connotation isn’t obvious. Still . . . at one point she translated what I assume was the Russian word “Klass!”, which means “Cool” in English, to “Class!”, which doesn’t mean anything, unless you are in a school. No excuse.
Other than the translation problem, this is just a pretty outrageous story. Ratushinskaya was pulled from her home by the KGB for writing poetry and generally supporting human rights, and then she basically established a new life with the other political prisoners in her camp. She gives detailed descriptions of detention and torture practices in the Soviet prisons, and I, of course, have respect for memoirs of this nature. In many ways, I believe, she wrote this as a letter to the West, to reveal the inhumanity of the Soviet government, and I would say that she is successful in what she was trying to accomplish. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, and it is definitely not a light weekend read, but I’m not sad that I read it either. I would still like to own a copy in the original Russian. ...more
The story I am about to tell is made approximately 70% less funny by the fact that it is associated with this book, so if you've read the book, the paThe story I am about to tell is made approximately 70% less funny by the fact that it is associated with this book, so if you've read the book, the part that I think is the punch line will probably be obvious before I tell you. Oh well, though.
When I lived in Ukraine, there was a volunteer who was a pilates instructor, so my friend, Margarita (real name), and I were talking about going to a pilates class. One of our gentleman friends overheard us, came up to us hesitantly, and asked, "Is that how you say that word? P-I-L-A-T-E-S? Pill-AH-tees?"
"Yes," said Margarita. "Wait, how do YOU say it?"
Margarita burst out laughing and laughed for a good fifteen minutes.
A few months later, when everyone was reading The Master and Margarita, I ran into our gentleman friend again. "Have you read Master and Margarita yet?" He asked me.
"Yes," I said, "I don't think I love it as much as a lot of other people."
"I like the parts with pon-TEE-us pill-AH-tees," he said.
"WITH WHO???" I asked.
"You mean Pontius Pilate?!" I asked, and laughed for another good fifteen minutes. Sometimes, you can't win.
I don't have much to say about this book. I thought the beginning was solid and then it wandered, but I get, in theory, how it is somehow associated with Soviet national spirit, and that seems cool. ...more
Just after I read this book, I watched the movie Alex and Emma, in which Luke Wilson writes a book that plagiarizes this story. It made me very uncomfJust after I read this book, I watched the movie Alex and Emma, in which Luke Wilson writes a book that plagiarizes this story. It made me very uncomfortable. As far as I know (and I watched pretty carefully) the movie did not cite Dostoyevsky at any point. It also made me feel weird about myself that I am a person who would read a novella by Dostoyevsky (because I just can't get enough) and then go watch a pretty lame romantic comedy with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson because it sounded like a good idea. I couldn't confess to the Dostoyevsky crowd that I watched the Kate Hudson movie, and I couldn't confess to the romantic comedy crowd the outrage I felt over obvious plagiarism. I'm glad I could finally get this off my chest.
*sharp intake of breath* I just imdb'd the author of the screenplay for Alex and Emma, Jeremy Leven (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0505230/), and he also wrote the screenplay for my second most hated movie, The Notebook. I hope we can all agree to boycott his future movies out of respect for the sanctity of author ownership....more
I loved the Constance Garnett translations of all of the Dostoyevsky I read. I was just reading that Sidney Monas has the most accurate translation ofI loved the Constance Garnett translations of all of the Dostoyevsky I read. I was just reading that Sidney Monas has the most accurate translation of Crime and Punishment, however, so I might have to check that out. I'm not a huge fan of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, despite all of their awards. I'll probably give them another chance at some point....more