Russian Language Blog

Reading Russian Press: Russians’ Fear of Uncomfortable Literature – Part I Posted by on Nov 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

I thought it might be interesting to look at recently published articles in the Russian press. Rather than having me summarize them, we are going to include quotes from the article and go over the language and message in these quotes.

This week, I propose looking at the New Times article titled “Призы́в к смягче́нию нра́вов” (loosely translated as “A Call for Gentler Ways”). The article discusses the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature going to the Belorussian author Svetlana Alexievich (Russian – Светла́на Алексие́вич), who writes in Russian, and the mixed reaction this award received in Russia.

Впервы́е с 1987 го́да Но́белевскую пре́мию по литерату́ре получи́ла русскоязы́чная писа́тельница Светла́на Алексие́вич. Почему́ вы́бор Но́белевского комите́та вы́звал тако́е ожесточе́ние в Росси́и и почему́ ру́сские не хотя́т чита́ть про стра́шное — выясня́л The New Times

Но́белевская премия по литературе – Nobel Prize in Literature
русскоязы́чный/ая – Russian-speaking
Но́белевский комите́т – Nobel Committee
ожесточе́ние – bitterness, harshness, exasperation; think of the word жесто́кий – cruel
стра́шное – frightening, scary

A few commentators have expressed doubt regarding the merit of Alexievich’s writing. The article dismisses these protests as unsubstantiated.

Мо́жно, коне́чно, спо́рить, того́ ли геро́я нашла́ награ́да, но, во́ля ва́ша, это дово́льно инфанти́льная постано́вка вопро́са.

награ́да – award
во́ля ва́ша – here, “say what you will,” a bookish way of disagreeing with someone
инфанти́льный – childish, often said disparagingly of adults, especially men
постано́вка вопро́са – literally, “statement of the problem;” refers to the angle from which one views the issue

The article postulates this award not only celebrates the work of specific writers, but also illustrates a larger trend.

Но как изве́стно, Но́белевский комите́т свои́ми реше́ниями не сто́лько поощря́ет конкре́тных писа́телей, ско́лько обознача́ет тенде́нции.

как изве́стно – as you know
поощря́ть – to reward, to encourage
обознача́ть – to denote
тенде́нция – trend

The author notes that Alexievich is an ideal candidate because she has ties to Ukraine and Belarus and is a consistent critic of Presidents Putin and Lukashenko. Thus, she redefines what is worth admiring in that part of the world.

Нам как бы ука́зывают: да, «ру́сский мир» существу́ет, но у норма́льных люде́й он ассоции́руется не с президе́нтами и банди́тами, а с писа́телями, не с агре́ссией, а с языко́м и культу́рой, приче́м европе́йской по исто́кам и су́ти.

указа́ть/ука́зывать – to point to something, to point something out, to show
“ру́сский мир” – the notion of a “Russian world,” encompassing Russian speakers and people of Russian descent worldwide
ассоции́роваться – to be associated with
банди́т – gangster, goon
исто́к – origin, source
суть – essence

We learn that Alexievich’s books feature multiple interviews with people who have lived through dramatic events, and the author lets them present their story of pain and suffering.

Для ка́ждой кни́ги Алексие́вич бере́т со́тни интервью́, фрагме́нты кото́рых пото́м выстра́иваются в полило́г о бо́ли и страда́нии, точне́е, о челове́ке боле́ющем и страда́ющем, о его отноше́ниях со свои́ми бо́лью и страда́нием.

брать интервью́ + у + genitive – to interview someone
выстра́иваться в + accusative – to form something
полило́г – polylogue, a speech delivered by multiple people
боль – pain
страда́ние – suffering
отноше́ния с + instrumental – relationship with something

The article concludes that this award has attested to the virtue of non-fiction as a full-fledged literary genre.

То есть при́знано (столь авторите́тной инста́нцией — впервы́е) пра́во писа́теля называ́ться писа́телем, выска́зываясь при «посре́дничестве» други́х люде́й — и не со́зданных его́ воображе́нием персона́жей, а реа́льных, живы́х совреме́нников.

признава́ть/признать – to recognize, acknowledge
инста́нция – (first/highest court) instance
авторите́тная – respectable, established, authoritative
называ́ться + instrumental – to call oneself, to be called something
посре́дник – intermediary
воображе́ние – imagination
персона́ж – character
совреме́нник – a contemporary

To be continued!

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. John Di Carlo:

    Excellent posr! While agreeing that non fiction is a totally valid literary genre, I nevertheless feel some sympathy with those who regret the politicization of literary awards. While art should never divorce itself from politics, I would also argue that the honest artist is almost invariably a poor propagandist.

    • Maria:

      @John Di Carlo Thank you, John. It’s a tough call — I can’t really speak for the Nobel Prize Committee, but perhaps they feel that since non-fiction and other “biased” genres exist, distinguished authors working in them might as well be commended.

  2. Paul Cleland:

    What wonderful essays! Thank you immensely.

    • Maria:

      @Paul Cleland Thank you, Paul. The second post in this series will appear soon — stay tuned!

  3. Richard:

    A couple of thoughts re this post:

    1.) A number of people have been honoured for their non-fiction writing on political subjects; Varlam Shalamov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Gustav Herling come to mind. Non-fiction is a valid form of literature especially as it helps us to remember historical events and to better understand all aspects of human nature.

    2.) The concept of “русский мир” is similar to that of the English-speaking world or the Francophone nations. My opinion (and it is just my opinion) is that the Russian-speaking world went through a seventy-five year nightmare which left its literature and culture marred, or enriched, or perhaps both. At any rate, the Eastern Slavs have one-thousand years of history from which to draw pride; from the tales of the Primary Chronicle to Pushkin to the authors of today the “Russian world” can stand tall.

    • Maria:

      @Richard Richard, both comments make perfect sense. I believe the author of the article would probably agree with you on both counts, based on what they wrote.

  4. James:

    This was a good posting. Really enjoyed it!

    • Maria:

      @James Thank you, James! More coming soon.