Bookworms in Moscow

Russian major Caroline Elkin ‘15 is currently spending the year in Moscow. Here she writes about an experience from one of her first weeks in the city:

“We believe in realities that aren’t real, but they’re real enough for us to write about.” -David Mitchell, author.

Yes, Moscow is a big city. Of course, anyone who studies here will attend some cultural happening, performance, concert, lecture, or such. I expected that such events would be focused on unfamiliar or long-dead Russian authors and artists, or else completely incomprehensible.

While walking past the Библиотека имени Ленина (Lenin Library), the main library next to the Kremlin, I spotted a sign for some kind of lecture and tried to decipher it. Apparently, the British Council was sponsoring a lecture on “Literature: The Art of Fiction,” featuring David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas), Evie Wyld (author of A Still Small Voice), Alexander Illichevsky, and Alexander Garros (the last two being unfamiliar Russian authors). In other words: these are some famous, award-winning writers. Of course that sign doesn’t mean that these British authors will actually be here, I thought.

Helpful hint: when you see ads in Moscow, head home and check out your dictionary. You may discover that one of your all-time favorite authors will be speaking half an hour away from your house.

The lecture was fascinating–and free! The British authors spoke in English; everything else–commentary, questions, and general conversation–was in Russian. Translators were available, but I didn’t take one because I thought they were only for English into Russian. Later, it became apparent that I could’ve used one to understand some of the Russian, but it was good practice, and I understood a fair amount. And at the end, I met David Mitchell and got his autograph!

I never expected to meet such a famous person here in Moscow–I’m coming to realize that Russia isn’t the end of the world, no matter how much we talk about its identity as neither wholly European nor Asian in classes. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about oddly specific details of life here? According to David Mitchell, “Moscow smells of great human potential.”

Follow Caroline’s adventures in Moscow on her photo-filled blog, What is Being Done <>


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