Book Notes: Dmitry Bykov’s X

OK, wonderful news: Bykov’s novel June is not a fluke. X (2012), the first novel in the trilogy, is even better. A very complicated, crazy, beautiful novel.

X tells the thinly-veiled real-life story of how the famous Soviet writer and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov wrote his magnum opus Quiet Flows the Don. There were always rumors that Sholokhov plagiarized the novel, and its authorship remains one of the greatest mysteries of Soviet literature.

But Sholokhov’s authorship woes are only a pretext. The novel explores the nature of authorship. Of literature and of life. Who creates literature? Who creates what literature describes? Where does everything come from? Where does it go?

In spite of the heavy subject matter, the novel is often hilarious. The scenes depicting the visit to USSR of the well-meaning leftist writer Bernard Shaw are really funny. The novel is set in Stalin’s USSR but Stalinism is not at the center of the novel, not like it is in June.

I’m starting the closing novel of the trilogy that’s a 700-page doorstopper, considered to be Bykov’s best novel so far. Then there’s his 900-page novel about a Masonic lodge in the USSR, a biography of poet Boris Pasternak, and I’m hoping to be able to move on from Bykov then.

Oh, what pleasure it is to read good prose in Russian. I want to stop people in the street and tell them about this writer but I’m trying to keep myself under control.

More on the Job Search

Eleven job applications. India, Nepal, Nigeria, and Turkey. No Americans which is weird because we’ve hired Americans in the past. They do exist but right now they aren’t applying.

The pay is nothing special. $20-25 per hour at a 10-hour per week appointment. But! Our job comes with a full tuition waiver. These are Master’s students who pay tuition, unlike PhDs. Having the tuition problem solved, just like that, isn’t too shabby, I’d say.

Hard Work Pays Off

One important reason why the GOP won in Virginia is that they did the work. Early in the ballot count, Fairfax County started waffling, saying that there won’t be able to count, technical issues, blah blah. But there were Republican observers and lawyers on the ground ready to act. The top lawyer for the GOP was there, marching in, all ready to take depositions and gather evidence. Immediately, the “technical issue” got solved and the votes got counted.

Also, unlike in the CA recall, in VA the GOP actually had a campaign. They isolated a crucial mobilizing issue: schools. School closures and racist education. They beat that drum relentlessly, leaving aside the outdated, stupid free-marketeering slogans. And people responded. Once you notice it’s not 1981 any longer, it becomes easier to connect with voters. This is the GOP of the future. It’s in its infancy and I hope it grows in this direction. Less Reagan, less Bush, and more current, important issues that interest today’s voters.

Suffering Isn’t Moral

Suffering doesn’t make people better. It makes them worse. It saps energy, it makes people bitter and jaded.

Solzhenitsyn tells in The Gulag Archipelago that he believed he would find better people in the camps. That suffering would cleanse them and make them kinder, give them an understanding of what really mattered. What he found was the opposite. Except for the profoundly religious people who were bearing the suffering with dignity, everybody else was made a lot worse by it.

This is why it bugs me when politicians run on the strength of their sob stories. Everybody has a cross to bear. Some are heavier than others. That’s the nature of human existence. But the weight of each individual cross tells us nothing about the person bearing it. All pedophiles are victims of childhood sexual abuse. There’s nothing moral in theirs or anybody else’s suffering.

Wokeness and Humor

We used to have a department chair with a great sense of humor. I stew at every woke directive but that guy found ways to be funny about this stuff.

Once he was told to provide the numbers on faculty race and ethnicity. He compiled a completely true list that went like this:

  • Prof. A – Venezuelan-American
  • Prof. B – Jewish-Canadian
  • Prof. C – Jewish-Argentinean
  • Prof. D – Jewish-Ukrainian
  • Prof. E – Jewish-Brazilian
  • Prof. F – Jewish-American
  • Prof. G – from Texas, refused to disclose

The administration returned the list for the Chair to redo. In response, he added “Ashkenazi” or “Sephardic” to every Jewish-something professor and in brackets explained how he arrived at the conclusion of who was which). After that, the administration left him alone.