Distractions and columns not written

By Alex Beam  DECEMBER 25, 2014



I hated the Oxford dictionary because it failed to disclose that it was one-half English-Russian. I know English, Q.E.D., thus about half of the 90,000 advertised words were already known to me.

I know Russian, too, but I certainly don’t know enough Russian to fully savor the seventy line long “Pedal Digression” in Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, “Eugene Onegin.” That’s right; Pushkin devotes four sonnet-length stanzas of rhymed, iambic tetrameter to praising young women’s feet. And why not? I’ve been known to appreciate a well-turned ankle myself.

Where was I? Right, Pushkin. There is a character named Jack Pushkin in the novel I just finished reading, Meg Wolitzer’s “The Interestings.” It’s a good novel, I recommend it, although in the “Jeopardy!’’ category of “Russian Authors as Characters in Modern Novels” it would place second to Jhumpa Lahiri’s wonderful “The Namesake.” The father of the title character names his child Nikolai Gogol because he was reading Gogol’s story “The Overcoat” when he miraculously survived a train wreck.

(Vladimir Nabokov bored everyone he met by insisting that “The Overcoat” — “Shinel’” in Russian, and no, I didn’t need the dictionary for that — should be properly translated “The Carrick.” That idea was (1) incomprehensible and (2) nonsense. Nabokov also hated Dostoyevsky and insisted that “Notes from the Underground” should better be called “Memoirs from a Mousehole.”)

I’m wandering a bit here . . .



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