Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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24 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    They’re ex-soldiers, but not heroes
    In the gulag, what the heck?
    One is sent to the sharashka
    Could that someone be Gleb the Zek?

  2. Avatar aaron david says:

    I have received my copy, and am trying to get a jump start on it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      One of the things I notice that goes throughout Solzhenitsyn (and most Russian literature, for that matter) is a black, gallows humor. I found myself reading the book with a look of almost horror… then hit a particular paragraph and then bark out a laugh. Even stuff like the Gulag Archipelago had those moments and that was more or less straight journalism.

      Nothing is funnier than hearing someone tell the truth about someone else, I guess.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Do you read much contemporary Russian literature… by which I mean stuff published during Solzhenitsyn’s lifetime?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I don’t know if the better answer is “no” or “Kerensky and Pipes”.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Ah, non-fiction?

            I asked only because I had some recommendations if you liked what you’d read of Russian lit but hadn’t read much. Then almost immediately after asking, I remembered how much you said Maribou reads, which means that in all likelihood, I couldn’t give you recommendations that she couldn’t give you (unless she dislikes Russian stuff).Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I may or may not have dabbled in communism (in theory, mind, not in practice) in my youth.

              Recommendations are *ALWAYS* welcome. If I’m too thick-headed to listen, maybe someone smarter will take your advice.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m trying to figure out how you might have, hypothetically, dabbled in communism in practice. Joined a commune? Moved to Eastern Europe or Cuba? Spied for the KGB (as a child)?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There are Kulaks everywhere, my man. Just waiting for someone to liberate an unneeded hamburger from their overflowing capitalist trays.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                True, we live in a country of kulaks.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dude. I know.

                Or I knew.

                I find it hard, sometimes, to think the way I did, once.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’ll hold onto my recommendations until we get into the book, but since we’re talking about kulaks, I can’t help but throw out this one:

                If you ever have the time to devote to it–it’s dense, it’s complex, it’s written on a seriously grand scale, about events that were on one of the grandest scales in human history, and requires a bit of knowledge about what was going on in that period, so it requires some time and devotion–read Grossman’s Life and Fate. It is a wonderful book, and the letter from the mother of one of the characters is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. If it doesn’t make you cry, you might want to have your tear ducts checked. Have you ever read something that forces to you to just stop doing anything, not just reading the book but anything, for a while? The letter does that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                That rung a bell. I don’t remember anything from the Wiki page but there was a collection of quotes and I found this one:

                “Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed – while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end.”

                Yeah. That sounds right.

                For some reason, I know I’ve spent time with something related to that book. A million years ago.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Allow me to recommend P. G. Wodehouse’s The Clicking of Cuthbert:

                “Let me tell you one vairy funny story about putting. It was one day I
                play at Nijni-Novgorod with the pro. against Lenin and Trotsky, and
                Trotsky had a two-inch putt for the hole. But, just as he addresses the
                ball, someone in the crowd he tries to assassinate Lenin with a
                rewolwer–you know that is our great national sport, trying to
                assassinate Lenin with rewolwers–and the bang puts Trotsky off his
                stroke and he goes five yards past the hole, and then Lenin, who is
                rather shaken, you understand, he misses again himself, and we win the
                hole and match and I clean up three hundred and ninety-six thousand
                roubles, or fifteen shillings in your money.”

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              FWIW, Jaybird never listens to my recommendations. (Also, I do like Russian stuff but have read mostly classics, modern fantasy, and some poetry… even I can’t read EVERYTHING 😀 )Report

  3. Avatar Glyph says:


  4. Avatar Chris says:

    Do you know the story of Solzhenitsyn and Sholokov, by the way? If not, I will tell it to you in excruciating detail (so say that you know it). It’s a fascinating story of the political becoming the personal, and the personal in turn becoming the political, in a way that could only happen in the bizarre and utterly insane world of the Soviet Union and its Union of Soviet Writers.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Why, no. I haven’t heard it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        You should have said you had.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, if you do not know of him, was the author of two masterpieces: And Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea*, the first two parts of the Don epic. If you read reviews of the latter, you will find some detractors, because even within the context of Russian literature it is extremely dark, with little hope of salvation for both the heroes and their culture, but if you can see through the darkness, you will find a book that equals the former (which no one denies is one of the touring achievements of 20th century Russian literature, and for which Sholokhov earned the Nobel Prize) in its beauty. Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov was also the author of some other, mediocre to pretty good (Harvest on the Don is worth reading) novels and stories, as well as being an enthusiastic supporter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a Party member from his 20s, elected to the Supreme Soviet, and one of the more powerful members of the Union of Soviet Writers.

        Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, as you know of course, was the author of several good to great works, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago, and Cancer Ward, works that have become synonymous with political dissent and standing by one’s convictions in the face of imprisonment or exile. Needless to say, then, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was not a member of the Party, nor a supporter, as it had caused him nothing but suffering from a young age, even punishing him for volunteering to fight on his behalf with 11 years of imprisonment and exile (on an 8 year sentence). While he was widely respected and admired by writers outside of the Soviet Union, within the Union of Soviet Writers he was shuned…

        Particularly by Sholokhov, who panned One Day in the Life, and who, on reading In the First Circle (coincidentally), <a href=”wrote to his fellow members of the writer’s union:

        At one time I formed an impression of Solzhenitsyn (in part, after his letter to the congress of writers in May of this year), that he is an insane person, suffering from megalomania. That he, Solzhenitsyn, having served some time, did not withstand the harsh experience and popped a spring. I am not a psychiatrist and it is not my business to determine to what degree Solzhenitsyn’s psyche has been infected. But if this is true, the man cannot be trusted with a pen; a malicious, insane person, who has lost control of his reason, living in the tragic events of 1937 and following years, poses a great danger to all readers, young ones in particular.

        Even without such harsh condemnations from Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn’s work was going to be censored or banned within the Soviet Union, but Sholokhov’s disapproval would have meant that any tentative supporters that Solzhenitsyn had within the writer’s union would keep their mouths shut. Sholokhov’s attacks were purely political, of course, and I’m sure everyone in the writer’s union knew this. Even if one doesn’t like Solzhenitsyn’s writing — and while good to great, it does not approach the level of Sholokhov’s two classics – it is difficult to deny that they are the works of a talented literary mind. But since they are heavily critical of the excesses of the Soviet Union, Sholokhov attacks them as delusional, the works of a mind knocked off its hinges by years of difficult imprisonment. His criticisms of Solzhenitsyn and his writing are political attacks in the form of personal attacks, par for the course in the Soviet Union of course.

        Solzhenitsyn, who as we know was not one to back away from a fight, decided to retaliate with what appears at first to be a strictly personal attack: he argued, in the preface to a work on Sholokhov’s writing, that Sholokhov hadn’t even written it. This wasn’t a new charge: not long after Sholokhov published And Quiet Flows the Don, which he first began to publish at only 23, and which beautifully described the lives of Don Cossacks in great detail, was pretty quickly rumored to have been written by someone else, someone who had lived long enough to have the sorts of experiences one would think required to write such an epic. Some of the critics even said that they knew who had written it, Fyodor Dmitrievich Kryukov, a Cossack who had died fighting against the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war. The rumor was that Sholokhov had discovered Kryukov’s manuscript, passed the book off as his own, and then destroyed the original (Sholokhov’s own manuscript was never discovered, which has made it difficult to prove that he was without a doubt the author of the Don epics) . A literary “analysis” purporting to show that the work was, in fact, written by Sholokhov was published soon after the rumors surfaced, putting them to rest for a few decades.

        Until Sholokhov angered Solzhenitsyn with his personally damaging, or at least insulting criticisms that is. Solzhenitsyn brought the rumors back out into the light, lending his incredibly well-known and well-respected (outside of Russia) name to them, and causing both Sholokhov and the Soviet Union a great deal of embarrassment. Solzhenitsyn argued that not only was Sholokhov too young to have written something so rich in the details of lives, places, and events the likes of which he could not possibly have experienced at that age, but also and more importantly, the book was clearly a work of genius, while everything else Sholokhov had written was so clearly not. The disparity between the first two Don epics and the rest of Sholokhov’s oeuvre were so great that the same person could not possibly have written them. In other words, Solzhenitsyn was saying, “Not only did you not write this literary treasure, but everything you have written is shit.”

        The Soviets were so embarrassed at the doubt again surrounding one of their most celebrated authors (imagine: not only had Sholokhkov, a member of the Soviet elite, not written these Soviet classics, but a White officer had!) that they commissioned a an “expert” on the Cossacks to write an article arguing that not only did the writing in the Don epics look similar to other things that Sholokhov had written, but that even at a young age, Sholokhovs knowledge and talent were widely known (this Canadian newspaper article from ‘76 details the defense of Sholokhov), so it wasn’t surprising that at 23 he could write something that mere mortals, including Solzhenitsyn, couldn’t fathom anyone writing at that age. Other, more scientific analyses since the 70s have tended to suggest that Sholokhov was, in fact, the author of his novels, though some experts still believe they were written by Kyrukov. Because Sholokhov didn’t keep his original manuscript, we will never know the truth, and we have Solzhenitsyn to thank for the fact that there is any controversy at all. In retaliating against Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn achieved more than I think he could possibly have hoped, both placing a lasting doubt in the minds of readers perhaps as long as the Don epic is read, and embarrassing the Soviet government that had exiled him in the process. As I said, Sholokhov made his political attacks personal, and in turn Solzhenitsyn’s personal attacks became political.

        Now, I should note that I’m not an expert on any of this. I just have a bit of an obsession with Russian literature, and consider the first two works of the Don epic to be two of my favorite novels in any language. I am a bit of a Solzhenitsyn fan as well, though it’s probably telling that my favorite work of his is his least anti-Soviet, and most blatant work of pre-revolution nostalgia, August 1914, which, as it would happens, includes Kryukov as an important character. I suspect that Sholokhov did, in fact, write the Don epic in its entirety, but I think Solzhenitsyn came out ahead in their battle to soil each other’s reputations. I mean, it’s not like Solzhenitsyn was going to be popular among his fellow writers within the Soviet Union at the time anyway, and Sholokhov’s reputation outside of the Soviet Union may have been irreparably harmed, not only because he was (and is) suspected of plagiarism, but because now everyone knew that he was attacking the beloved Solzhenitsyn, symbol of resistance against the evil Soviets, and was to some extent responsible for the censorship of Solzhenitsyn’s work.

        Anyway, next time I ask if you know a story, say yes.

        *Since you mentioned Kerensky before, it’s worth noting that this book came out of a work he’d written (or had he?!?!) on the Kornilov Coup.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Dude. This is awesome.

          It’s stories like this that are the real reason we do bookclubs.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Chris, what translation of Sholokhov’s work would you recommend?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I’m probably not the person to ask, as I don’t read Russian, but I have the Garry translation (first and second, which appears to be out of print), and the Stephens (I think, this is it anyway: Harvest on the Don) of Harvest. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, so I can definitely recommend them even if I can’t speak to how true they are to Sholokhov’s prose (if he really wrote it!).Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Thanks Chris. I found the Garry translation of And Quiet Flows the Don for 6 bucks in the kindle store. Downloaded!Report