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Monday, May 23, 2005

reading list: Ukraine & Istanbul

Here's the reading material we brought with us for this trip:

Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine, by Anna Reid. I came across a reference to this book in an article last Nov/Dec, during the Orange Revolution (. I started it about a month ago, nearly finished with it. A great introduction to the history of (the) Ukraine--very readable and accessible. Reid was a journalist based in Ukraine, and her chapters on various episodes of Ukrainian history are framed by her own contemporary travels around the region. The only complaint I had is that I would have liked to have read more about certain topics. (For that, I suppose there is this or this.)

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol. Both these volumes were birthday presents from Ina and Bogdan. I subsequently bought a copy of Gogol's Dead Souls, and considered bringing that with us as well, but I left that at home, for after we return. Anj started reading The White Guard about a month ago, and just finished it this morning--she enjoyed it. I'll probably start it at some point during the trip. Bulgakov is not an author I knew of, but he's one of the giants of 20th century Russian literature (Bulgakov--although he wrote in and about Kyiv--was Russian by ethnicity, and wrote in Russian). We'll probably learn much more about him next week, when we will hopefully visit the Bulgakov Museum, in the house where he lived and wrote The White Guard.

I started reading the Gogol tales earlier this week. I'll probably just read the Ukrainian tales on this trip, and leave the St. Peterburg tales for later. I've gotten through the first two so far--"St. John's Eve" and "The Night Before Christmas." Not at all what I was expecting. What I was expecting was some sort of serious and detailed naturalistic depiction of 19th century Ukrainian life--the stereotype of Russian literature, owing to Tolstoy, I suppose. But the first two tales were riotously fantastical, and the's a challenge to keep up with, as a blurb on the back of the volume put it, "the onward rush of Gogol's prose, at once disheveled and uncannily precise." I wouldn't particularly recommend those first two stories, but it may be that he was just finding his voice in those early stories. I just started the third in the collection, "The Terrible Vengeance," and it's seems to be much more readable. It reminds me of the only other Gogol I've read, Taras Bulba, in that it's the story of a Zaporozhyian Cossack. In fact, I may have to reread Taras Bulba while we're here--Ina has the copy I have her a couple years ago, just before she came for that first summer she spent here.

Istanbul: The Imperial City, by John Freely. Found this one on Amazon, and looks to be a good find--a combination of a detailed history of the city (and thus of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires), together with a travel guide to the city's monuments and historical sites. Anj started reading it on the plane--she's finding it informative, if somewhat dry.

I didn't bring any Turkish fiction with us. I did read a novella by Yeshar Kemal's over the past couple weeks, The Birds Have Also Gone, which wasn't particularly rewarding. I'd been half-intending to get a copy of Memed, My Hawk, or something by Pamuk, but that didn't happen.

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