(“This book changed my life…”)
…and it could change yours, too!
No, I’m NOT talking about Dianetics, or Think and Grow Rich, or Lose Two Pounds A Day The Herbal Way, or whatever.
Я имею в виду вот эту книгу (“I have in mind this book here”):
ВНИМАНИЕ! Чтение этой книги может привести к новой привычке! Беречь от детей до тринадцати лет! (“WARNING: Reading this book may be habit-forming! Keep away from children under 13!”)
And how did this book change my life? Well, it started like this…
Когда-то в детстве (“Sometime in my childhood”), когда я был мальчиком, и мне было лет не больше десяти (“when I was a boy of no more than ten years”), we were living in Ankara, Turkey — где мой отец работал в американском посольстве (“where my father worked at the U.S. Embassy”.)
Since we were in the general neighborhood of the Soviet Union, наши родители наняли турецкую студентку (“our parents hired a Turkish college-girl”) who was fluent in English to watch me and my little sister for a week, while they улетели на экскурсию в Москву и Санкт-Петербург Ленинград (“flew off on a guided group tour to Moscow and Leningrad”).
They returned full of stories about the trip — although to ease our annoyance at being left behind, they reassured us that we would have been bored out of our minds, because the tour was so museum-oriented.
And they also brought home some cool souvenirs. Of course, there were the obligatory матрёшки (“nesting dolls”) and шкатулки с миниатюрами (“lacquer boxes with painted lids”).
I was especially entranced by the богородские игрушки (“carved wooden toys” named for the village of Bogorodskoye), with moving mechanisms activated by рычаги (“levers”) or swinging маятники (“pendulums”):
A typical богородская игрушка. There are also богородские резьбы (“Bogorodskое-style carvings”) that are similar in style but don’t necessarily have moving parts.
And since I was an avid reader, they also gave me a number of Russian books — in English translation, of course. I later found that some of them are now regarded as classics of Soviet “kid lit” — for example, Aleksandr Raskin’s Как папа был маленьким (“When Daddy Was a Little Boy”).
But the one that affected me most was the one above — Vasalisa the Beautiful, a сборник русских сказок (“anthology of Russian fairy-tales” — the editor and primary translator is Zheleznova, Irina).
Of course, I was fascinated partly by the highly exotic settings and events: heroes climbing into the ears of talking horses; избушки на курьих ножках (“huts on hen’s feet”); magical apple trees growing from a buried телячья кишка (“calf’s intestine”); unkillable wizards who hid their mortality in the point of a needle inside an egg inside a duck inside a hare…
And although the book was in English, the language itself made an impression on me. Note how vividly the speed of the villain’s horse is described in this passage:
The English translations of some сказки take minor liberties, but the language here is очень близкий к оригиналу (“very close to the original“), in which the talking horse boasts «Можно ячменя насеять…» (“One could sow some barley”), etc.
So, this one book of traditional fairytales lit a lasting curiosity in me about Russia and its culture, and this was definitely a factor that encouraged me to pick Russian for my foreign-language requirement when I started college way back in 1989. And here I am today!
After a LOT of persuasion, Yelena convinced me to вступить в команду (“join the team”) as an official writer for the Transparent Russian Blog. Of course, I’m still skeptical about the wisdom of this, because по правде говоря, мне кажется что я “владею” русским языком на таком же уровене, что и Тарзан. (Frankly, I think that my “command” of the Russian language is about on the same level as Tarzan’s.)
But if she thinks it’s a good idea, I’ll trust her — and I’m thrilled by the chance to discuss Russian on such a great forum, share some of what I’ve learned over the years. And always remember, I’m a learner, like you guys — so to quote a Russian saying that was supposedly a favorite of Ronald Reagan, Доверяй но проверяй (“Trust, but verify” — i.e, when in doubt, ask Yelena or another native speaker!)