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.

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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!

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! 🙂

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?

 

Вежливость (Politeness)

Я нашла интересную статью о том, что думают британцы о русских туристах. Теперь я понимаю, почему стюардессы в самолётах смотрели на меня странно, когда я спросила: “Вэр из зэ тойлет?”

Вы можете прочитать статью здесь.

А вот некоторые слова из статьи:

  • вежливость – politeness
  • грубо/грубость – rudeness
  • приветствия –  greetings
  • жаловаться – to complain
  • ведут себя – behave themselves
  • оправдываться – to make excuses
  • нахамить – to be rude
  • приемлемо – acceptable

Ответьте на вопросы:

  • Какие правила вежливости приняты в вашей стране?
  • Может ли быть “слишком” вежливым?
  • Что вы думаете о русских?

How to be polite “the Russian way”

Greetings, my dear readers!

I’ve recently come across a very interesting article on how other people see Russian tourists and Russians in general. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t that surprised to learn that we’re often seen as “mean”,”rude” or even “completely nuts”. But what is it about us that makes people use such unbecoming titles? I have a few theories that I’d like to share:

  •  First thing to mention is our intonation. I mean, of course, every single language in the world has its own unique rhythm and sound. However, the problem is that Russian intonation can actually trick foreign listeners into thinking that we’re being angry about something. For instance, when I talk to my students, I make sure to smile a lot and keep my voice light and slightly higher than normal. I do it for a very good reason, because a few times that I tried to use my normal voice, my students thought I were tired and in a bad mood.
  • The next thing is smiling. As you may already know, in Russia it’s not okay to flash smiles at everyone. Many people actually feel threatened by a sudden display of friendliness from a stranger. If you try to approach them on the street and start a casual conversation, they’ll probably think you’re trying to sell them something and will make a hasty departure. Even at the shops, salespeople will not act as if they’re happy to see you, but instead will stick to a dry professional tone. The customers, in turn, will act equally grim. That’s why when I enter the shops in Australia, the salespeople often ask me if everything’s alright, because they’re probably thinking I’m not so pleased with the service.
  • Finally, some Russian tourists can actually act rude. Simple as that. That is, of course, if they drank too much vodka 🙂

The moral is simple: if you ever find yourself in Russia, you don’t have to worry about etiquette too much. Don’t apologize too often, don’t smile, look displeased and you will blend in just fine. Also, it would be good to remember these phrases:

Chto vam nado?” – What do you want?!

Muzhchina/zhenchina, podvintes!” – Man/woman, move away!

Vy mozhete idti/ehat’ bistreye?” – Can you walk/drive faster?

Sleduyushiy!” – Next! (often used in a commanding tone by the doctor/cashier/server)

Rasschitivayemsya!” – Pay up! (usually used by a shuttle bus driver before he starts the bus)

Tiho!” – Quiet! (can be used in variety of social  situations)

If you can read Russian, check out this post for more information.

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