I’m haunted by a book, and the house in it: the house of the others, the house of the suspended time, the house in which, the gray house.
Ever since my friend Jeanne recommended me to watch this documentary I’m attaching below about Russian writers, I fell in love with a book by Mariam Petrosyan that I wanted to read, but I couldn’t. It happened that the book by Mariam Petrosyan about a house that is home to disabled children and their tutors, was available at the time I watched the documentary, only in Russian and Italian. (Maybe in French as well). I don’t read any of those languages, and down the drain went my hope of reading the book that, since it was out of my reach, became the most interesting book in the world at the time. What’s in our wiring that makes us want that which we cannot get?
Time passed and I forgot.
Kind of forgot.
I am drawn to Russian literature, but Russian literature requires a mood, lots of time, it’s an investment. Old and modern, Russian writers present us with full universes, and for that, they need time and matter. They average 1000 pages for their best novels. No less than 300 or 400 pages. (This is a perception statistic, limited to the few Russian books I’ve read, and the few more I know about).
I know I should read War and Peace, but I have read Anna Karenina, and it’s OK not to be ready for War and Peace yet.
I have not read The Brothers Karamazov, but I have read The Gambler, and Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky, and for years I thought he was my favorite Russian writer.
But then Jeanne too, told me about Cancer Ward, by the author I can never pronounce, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I have not read his The Gulag Archipelago, nor his shorter book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but I believe that, at 560 pages, Cancer Ward grants me the right to declare Solzhenitsyn my favorite Russian author.
For years I thought I’d never read Nabokov (the writer of the controversial Lolita). But I happened to read Reading Lolita in Tehran, and other Nabokov books were mentioned in that, which prompted me to read his Invitation to a Beheading, which I found a mysterious and fascinating read.
I have Anton Chekhov’s short stories book, and I believe I read some when I was young, but since I don’t remember, it’s clear I could read this author too. My issue is that even though I’ve read Cancer Ward and Anna Karenina in English, I read Dostoevsky in Spanish, and right now, every time I read a Russian book, I would like to read it in Spanish.
All these titles don’t even scratch the the tip of the Russian literature iceberg. My goal is simpler, it can be expressed like this: Got Russian Lit?
Back to my haunted title. After a talk in the park with some friends, I remembered the documentary. And in a version of, “If you give a reader a book documentary”, I remembered Mariam Petrosyan (not the name, but the one writer whose book I couldn’t read). I came home, and I searched for the documentary. I found Mariam and the cut where her book came up. I googled the book, and I realized it’s been translated into Spanish since 2009. (For some odd reason, a year ago I did not see the book in Spanish). That prompted me to look it up at Goodreads, where the stats by readers in Russian, Italian and French, who review it in English, consider it stellar, and many reviewers lament they only had only 5 stars to give to the book.
The Goodreads stats:
4.45 out of 5 stars · 1,955 Ratings · 193 Reviews
I was happy to find out the book is around 1000 pages!, because it’s a bit more expensive than what I spend on books, and because when I love a book, I want it to be long, and I know I’m going to love this title. But I don’t have it yet. This will be my birthday present (January next year). I can wait. That makes it even more special.
If you read in English, the book will be published in April 2017 under the title The Gray House. I know it will be worth waiting for it. Titles change for the different translations. In Spanish they have translated The House of the Others.
Below the French cover and title, a direct translation of the Russian, The House in Which.
The Russian edition:
The Italians have the book under the title The House of the Suspended Time:
The House, some say, is another character in the book. I like knowing the Russian title the author gave to the book, and I find the Italian title the most intriguing one.
Of all the covers, the English one, -though with the plainest title-, once I read the Italian title, The House of the Suspended Time, showed me that idea of time suspended with the Magritte evoking image.
The Italian cover is not spectacular, but I would say I like the title chosen for it. The Russian cover I find it punk, rebellious, and it also hints at something with those transparent persons, and the contrast of light and shadows. The French cover is my least favorite. It’s violent. They translated the closest to the Russian title. The Spanish cover, I don’t know what to think. They opted to leave the house out of the cover, and just in the title, and gave us a bit more inkling as to why the house is special or different. They focused on another aspect of the book (just by reading the reviews), they turned the attention to the children as the others, different.
Will you join me in reading this title next year?
UPDATE: I have now read Brothers Karamazov, and I loved it. This are the updated Goodreads ratings, · Rating Details · 2,056 Ratings · 204 Reviews. I did not buy the Spanish book yet. I am glad I got the English audio, for Yuri Machkasov’s translation is a pleasure to read.
He stopped by our book club, and made some interesting comments.