Interesting Russian Books

While studying the Russian language, it’s impossible to avoid meeting with good old classics. Most of you probably have heard of, or even read, the great and sizeable «War and Peace» by Leo Tolstoy, and equally famous «Crime and Punishment» by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. You can also add Anton Chekhov and his witty short stories, as well as Mikhail Bulgakov’s devilish «Master and Margarita» to that list. These are the first names that come up whenever I ask a non-Russian person about Russian literature.

Don’t get me wrong, these authors are great. They are the true jewels on the crown of Russian culture, and their writing style and ideas have had a great influence not only on the contemporary writers, but on the Russian people as well. However, I have always found it a little puzzling that most of contemporary Russian books remain largely unnoticed on the world literature stage. Especially since a lot of people from my generation have grown up reading those books and they affected the way we see the world and how we interact with others. So, in order to gain a better understanding of what modern Russians are like, it’s highly recommended to get acquainted with the books they read. Not to mention that the books I’m going to talk about are all extremely well written and entertaining.

** Language Learning Note: Some of these books are available in adapted versions. Here is the main publisher of adapted Russian books for language learners. These are e-book version, but you can also buy them online at amazon.
1)  «Adventures of Erast Fandorin» by Boris Akunin. The series has been the detective classics for at least few decades now and still haven’t lost their popularity. Imagine something in the lines of James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes in 19th century Russia. Awesome, right? Many of the books are translated into English. Boris Akunin is a tremendously talented author, known for his elegant and witty writing style.

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2) «The Night Watch» series by Sergei Lukyanenko. The books have become very popular in Russia thanks to the movie adaptation of the same title which came out in the early 2000s. If urban fantasy is your thing, you’re going to love this. Meet Anton, an ordinary Russian guy, who one day finds out that there is much more to our world that meets the eye. By more I mean opposing supernatural organizations, the shifting balance between Light and Darkness, vampires, witches and sorcerers. Oh, and there is plenty of personal drama, good dialogue and fantastic plot twists.

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3) «The House, in which…» (or «The Gray House») by Myriam Petrosyan. The book tells of a boarding school for disabled children and was published in Russian in 2009, becoming a bestseller. It was nominated for the Russian Booker Prize in 2010 and received several awards and nominations, among them the 2009 Russian Prize for the best book in Russian by an author living abroad. I read this book last autumn and still haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s rather challenging to try to explain the plot, and I think that it’s much better to let you see for yourself. The experience is simply incredible. The English translation will be coming out in April 2017.

Dom,_v_kotorom..._(2009_cover)

4) «The Roadside Picnic» by Strugatsky brothers. This short novel is a must read to all the lovers of science-fiction. In fact, many people are familiar with Andrey Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker, which is loosely based on this very novel. Despite being written more than 40 years ago, the story keeps firm position on the top of all-time favourite sci-fi list. If you enjoy the story, make sure to check out more of Strugatsky novels. I especially recommend «Monday begins on Saturday» and «Hard to be a God», all available in English.

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5) «Generation P» (translated to English as «Homo Zapiens» and «Babylon) by Viсtor Pelevin. A rather bold and controversial read, if you ask me, but very interesting. The book deals with such themes as heavy drug use, philosophy of consumerism and even Mesopotamian mythology, all taking place in the post-Soviet Russia. The narrative style is rather playful and at times straight out hilarious.

I could have added a lot more books to this list, but unfortunately, they haven’t been translated to English yet. Let’s hope it will be fixed in the nearest future. As for now, I’ll be very happy if one of the books I’ve mentioned above will pick your interest. After all, there is nothing like reading a good book for the first time. Enjoy!

Astana’s Pyramid

Today’s blog is a bit unusual – it’s going to be not about Russia. For the last 4 months, I have been living in Kazakhstan and I would like to share some of my impressions and observations.

First, I’d like to point out that I’ve only been in one Kazakh city so far – Astana, the capital city. There is a belief that a capital is the face of the country – and it’s very true in case of Astana. The city has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Back in the 90s there was nothing but steppes for miles around. Now it’s without doubt one of the most impressive cities on our planet.

When I first arrived to Astana, I didn’t know much about it – only that apparently, it has impressive architecture and that many people go there for work. I also heard some good and bad things about the attitude of the locals towards Russians, and, I must admit, I was a little bit anxious about that upon arrival.

However, I soon discovered that people in Astana are very friendly, and on multiple occasions I’ve enjoyed the famous Kazakh hospitality. For instance, this New Year we were invited to the apartment of one of my husband’s students where we had the chance to meet his large family and try delicious traditional food that he cooked for us. Also, plenty of alcohol that day – I guess, in some ways Kazakhstan is pretty similar to Russia. Not that I complain.

One thing I’d like to talk about today is architecture. Yesterday I finally had the chance to see one of the most impressive buildings in Astana, whose official name is «The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, although the locals prefer to call it simply «the Pyramid». The building is impressive in many aspects. As you have already guessed, it is shaped in the form of a giant isosceles pyramid and it reaches 62 metres in height. It might bring associations with Egyptian pyramids, but it gives quite a different vibe.

For a relatively small fee you can get inside and the guide will take you through three different levels of the pyramid. On the first level, you will see a very elegantly designed opera theatre: soft velvet seats, the amphitheatre and breathtaking ceiling.

To reach the next floor, you’ll need to take an elevator. It moves diagonally through the pyramid, which feels a little bit strange. On the second stop you get to see a small, but very interesting exhibition of various traditional costumes belonging to some nationalities living in Kazakhstan.

And, finally, the top floor. Walls there are made of glass, so you get to see the panoramic view of the city. To be honest, on a gloomy winter day it doesn’t look that impressive, but I’m sure it looks spectacular in summer.

On the other side, across from the Pyramid you can see many other interesting buildings. I was especially impressed by the University of Arts that looked like it came straight from the pages of a sci-fi novel. Also, there was a giant, beautiful mosque and a museum, which I’ll be sure to visit on my next visit to that part of the city.

I’ve been living in Astana for more than 4 months now, but the city never ceases to impress me. This year the government is staging an international event called Expo 2017, which will attract tourists from all over the world. Thanks to this, the interest in English language has increased significantly.

Having said that, I can safely recommend Astana as a travel destination. However, if you decide to go here, make sure to come in summer. The winter weather here is rather hellish. Oh, and be prepared for a weak Internet connection. Mobile Internet seems to work fine, though, and it’s not very expensive. If these problems don’t scare you, then Astana is definitely a place for you. Also, many nationalities can now visit without a visa for a short time, thanks to the Expo, making it easier.

Russian Humour in films

Contrary to what many might think, Russians are quite cheerful people. Although our sense of humour at times can be quite strange. Perhaps it lacks the flirty finesse of English humour or funky directness of American one, but it’s humour nonetheless. At times it can even be funny.

Most of the jokes these days can be found on the Internet. They exist in the form of memes and usually involve photos of certain individuals who were once unfortunate enough (or fortunate, depends how you look at it) to put themselves on YouTube. Yeah, Russians love laughing at others. That’s probably the cornerstone of our humour. You’ll rarely find a Russian who likes to laugh at himself/herself, but when it comes to others…oh, that’s another story.

It’s quite interesting that Russians of previous generations like to claim that young people are spoilt and have a stupid sense of humour. I tried many times showing my mum things I found on YouTube that I thought were downright hilarious. However, the only reaction I would get was a confused look on her face. Then she would ask when exactly she was supposed to laugh.

True, humour changes from generation to generation. What our grandparents found funny usually makes us shrug and elicits at best a wry smile. But some things never change. One of them, as surprising as it may seem, is so-called black humour. Maybe this is so, because life for an average Russian is not always sweet and light. So, in order to survive, you’ve got to learn to laugh in the face of hardships that life throws at you.

Actually, Russian humour can be put into 3 major categories: Soviet humour, post-Soviet humour and modern humour. Let me briefly introduce you to these categories:

All three are still watched in many Russian homes on a regular basis.

  • The situation changed dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union. People literally went crazy, which took its toll on all forms of contemporary art. Humour became less sophisticated and you would often watch comedies touching the previously taboo subjects, such as sex and politics. One of the perfect examples of such movies is Ширли-Мырли/Shirli-Mirli by Vladimir Menshov, which shamelessly mocks the reality of Russian life (unfortunately, no English subtitles for this one).
  • The term modern Russian comedies can be used to describe all the comedies that came out after the year 2000. Since it’s nearly been two decades, this is quite a broad topic to discuss. In brief, modern comedies have their ups and downs, and one can find his share of good and bad comedies. However, let’s be honest, good Russian comedies are hard to come by these days. Usually they are filmed by independent studios and aren’t always shown at cinemas. I would recommend you something, but I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling your mood. So, I’ll leave it up to you.

What is the situation with comedies in your native country? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

Challenge#4

Всем привет! ^_^

Наконец, Рождество и Новый год позади, и после долгих двух недель переедания мы можем вернуться к нормальной жизни.

Сегодня наше задание будет немного необычным. Мы будем писать отзыв на фильм или сериал. Честно говоря, я очень люблю кино и могу говорить на эту тему бесконечно. А вы? 🙂

Но прежде всего давайте посмотрим, какие слова обычно используют в отзывах:

Я посмотрел/ла – I saw/watched…(a movie, TV-show, etc.)
Просмотр
view (as in viewing the movie)
Жанр
genre
Сюжет –
plot
Режиссёр
director
Актёры
actors
Бюджет
budget
Спецэффекты
special effects
Мне понравилось/не понравилось…
I liked/disliked
Меня впечатлил/ла/ло
I was impressed by….
Меня разочаровал/ла/ло
I was disappointed by…
По-моему...-
in my opinion…
Я рекомендую
I recommend

1) А сейчас я хочу рассказать вам о своих впечатлениях после просмотра фильма “Звёздные войны: Пробуждение Силы”.

Я очень люблю “Звёздные войны”, поэтому нового фильма ждала с нетерпением. По-моему, это один из самых крутых фильмов в жанрах “фантастика” и “фэнтези”. Я слышала, что у фильма есть новый режиссер и очень большой бюждет. Мне было интересно посмотреть, что получится. И результат меня не разочаровал. 

Фильм получился динамичным и интересным, с хорошими шутками и правдоподнобной драмой. Спецэффекты впечатляют!

Актеры замечательно сыграли свои роли. Мне особенно понравился нестандартный антагонист. Также было очень приятно увидеть персонажей оригинальной трилогии.

Правда, одна вещь меня разочаровала: сюжет этого фильма слишком уж похож на “Звездные войны: Новая Надежда”. Надеюсь, следующий фильм удивит нас необычным сюжетом.

Я рекомендую этот фильм всем, кто любит подобный жанр, да и просто тем, кто любит хорошо провести время. 

2) А какой фильм вы посмотрели недавно? Напишите небольшой отзыв о нем.

* Более продвинутым ученикам предлагаю посмотреть и написать отзыв на первый эпизод русского комедийного сериала “Как я стал русским”. Вы можете это сделать вот здесь.

Успехов! 🙂

How to read in your target language

There are many ways of improving your language skills, and reading in target language is definitely one of them. It’s a perfect chance to expand your vocabulary, while at the same time experiencing the beauty of original storytelling. After all, certain things will always be lost in translation.  Some people claim they don’t like to read, but it’s very possible they just haven’t found their book yet. Here are some tips on how to choose a perfect book in your target language and make your reading experience as fun and useful as it can be.

Selecting the book – quickly skim a couple of pages to make sure you can understand at least half the words present. Be aware of your level, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. For instance, being a beginner with little or no previous reading experience, you could aim for adapted books or children books that mostly consist of short and simple sentences. That will boost your confidence and help you to distinguish the basic sentence structures. However, once you’ve reached intermediate level, you could try your luck with something a bit more tough, but infinitely more enjoyable.

General tips – Read aloud to practice pronunciation and intonation. Not only it will develop your acting skills, but it will also make your speech flow more naturally in a normal conversation. It’s a good idea to have an audio narration of the book you’re reading, as it will help you avoid some pronunciation mistakes.

How to read and what to do with unknown words

1 – Read a section

2 – When you come across unknown words, try to understand their meaning from the context

3 – If  you fail to understand the meaning or need to check your wild guess, look up the word in the dictionary and establish some emotional connection with it (e.g.: игла – needle -pinch yourself- ouch!)

4 -Another thing you can do if you are being stalked by a certain word, write the stubborn thing down. As you do it, include the context you saw it in. A graphic illustration can also be of help, but don’t get carried away – it’s reading we’re after, not painting! Maybe include 2 or 3 examples of the said word. The more often you notice it, the more likely you will remember it.

5 – Go over your list of words before you read next time.

How to use reading to improve grammar

Focus on a specific grammar rule you want to learn. For example, genitive case in Russian – notice where this occurs and the context it is used. Reward yourself every time you get it right with an affectionate pat on the shoulder. You can also use this technique for recognizing specific constructions such as esli bi…, etc. Works every time!

Now, for those of you who’re interested in Russian books I recommend this site: http://loveread.ws/
The site has a great collection of Russian books or those translated to Russian, all of them presented online. Fiction, non-fiction, novels, psychology, thrillers, erotic stories – you name it.  No registration is required. The search button is at the bottom right and is called “Поиск по сайту”.

Hope I was of some help. Thank you and see you soon on our next challenge! 🙂

Challenge#3 – Christmas and New Year

Всем привет!

Совсем скоро наступит Рождество (Christmas), а за ним и Новый год (New Year). В воздухе висит (hangs in the air) атмосфера праздника: в России это свежий запах ёлки и мандаринов, а в Австралии – запах лета, свежей выпечки (fresh pastry) и шоколадных конфет.

Вот и пришло время начать наш новый challenge. И поговорим мы, конечно, о самых волшебных (magical) праздниках в году. Вы готовы? Тогда вперёд!

а) Для начала прочитайте эти слова:

  • Шарики – baubles
  • Украшения – decorations
  • Украшать – to decorate
  • Праздновать, отмечать  – to celebrate
  • Подарки – presents
  • Ёлка – fir tree (also known as Christmas tree or New Year tree)
  • Дед Мороз – Father Frost
  • Церковь – Church
  • Служба – service

б) Посмотрите видео

в) Ответьте на вопросы:

  • Как отмечают Рождество в России?
  • Что едят в России на Новый год?
  • Кто дарит подарки детям в Австралии? В России?
  • Почему австралийское Рождество необычно для русских?
  • Как вы празднуете Рождество и/или Новый год?

 

Recipes in Russian

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, it is very important when learning a language to interact with it as much as possible. If you like to cook and do it often, why not use recipes (рецепты) that are written in Russian? You will learn the names of different ingredients, as well as verbs like “to pour”, ” to add”, and many others that can be useful in other situations. This is the website I often use to find recipes. There are different categories (категории) in which you can search:

  • You can choose the dish you want to cook. Luckily, the site offers pictures, so that shouldn’t be a problem. For example, you find yourself obliged to cook a tasty dessert. Press on the picture of those delicious pancakes that says “выпечка и десерты” (pastry and desserts) and feast your eyes on thousands of mouthwatering options.
  • You can choose the”кухня“, a cuisine. Which cuisine do you prefer? (Какую кухню вы предпочитаете)? Китайскую (Chinese), мексиканскую (Mexican), индийскую (Indian)? А, может, русскую (Russian)?
  • You can also find a recipe based on your diet or preference (предпочтения): vegetarian food (вегетарианская еда), menu for children (детское меню), low-fat food (низкокалорийная еда).
  • Or maybe you already have a main ingredient (ингредиенты) and don’t know what to do with it? Это не проблема! Simply type in the name of the ingredient into the search window, and you’ll get many interesting suggestion
ПРИЯТНОГО АППЕТИТА! (Bon appetit!)