Word for Word has grown up to become an important milestone in Russia’s calendar. If you wanted to dive deeper into the historical makeup of the Slavs, of the Eastern European Jews, then there is no other book but this to enjoy doing so, from the looks of it. These people makeup the fabrics of our society, like nothing else and it’s so fascinating to learn about them as a cultural group – it is a beautiful thought to behold, that you can actually stare at a population diaspora, with this much particular knowledge. This is for numerous reasons, bordering on their beauty as a person, as a community, who often exhibit the devil-may-care attitude that is so rare.
I wonder if it is just simple coincidence that these people seem to share their personality attributes with those “special” Germans who were so utterly joyous to see the Berlin Wall fall, they decided to stomp on it and dance with abandon. It was finally over – the great divide between the East and the West. I wonder because this author seems to be so lazy about rules and rigidity and has even gotten the opportunity to enjoy Germania.
This book is a surge of Russia’s cultural history, as it was back in the early 1900s. You meet this woman, Lilianna Lungina, who is a beacon of the ‘20s but in her own special, private way. She is a Russian Jew, who has spent her childhood surrounded by dimes and dollars, and has been to France, Palestine – close to the place with which she shares her roots, and ofcourse, Germany. Most of her childhood was spent in USSR though, where she moved to when she was only 13 years old. In the USSR, Lungina saw some of the country’s biggest political mishaps happen right before her very eyes – how extraordinarily lucky!
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She went through a process of getting exiled, during the Second World War – a time when she was personally dragged, like a ragged doll, to the headquarters of the ruthless and murderous KGB. Over there, she was asked to divulge in the details of the whereabouts of her privileged friends, perhaps those who like to discover and escape to exotic countries, when they feel it, or maybe have a glass of red wine or two, to enjoy their lives. Lungina also became a translator, despite being subjected to the terrifying life under the Russian anti-Semitic regime, and as a translator, she met some great authors during her lifetime, such as Pasternak and Brodsky.
Her memoir is thus a piece of work on a lost world: what it really felt like to be a Jew in Russia, when the KGB ruled the land. She is almost a Russian “Anne Frank” sans the tragedy, and plus the glittering literary career, Lungina was actually alive to see. What captivated me about the book, however, was how it fits into the trending talk of Russian literature: it’s too tiny to do so by itself because this is after all one person’s personal account of an extraordinary life. But it does shed some light on the social history of Slavs and Eastern European Jews.
Slavs (and Eastern European Jews), largely speaking, are really rebellious people, they have been responsible for so many catastrophic incidents in Europe, such as demanding for the creation of a separate Yugoslavia. That never happened, so an assassination followed, that shocked Europe and soon the population of separate Russian states demanded an end to all of the violence and divide the empire. It also didn’t happen, so the First World War, followed.
I would love to know how Lungina fits into this whole diverse picture in Russia but her book never touches on those subjects: it’s too busy sharing names of lovely literary figures she has met and has had somewhat nice personal adventures with. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to get to walk in another woman’s shoes for a change, in your mind – it let’s you imagine a shiny, gleaming, pretty, classy, intelligent, capable, well-regarded world come alive where slim and slinky Lungina is always on the run, it seems from her white-washed, snowy experiences in Russia.