We love humor here at Read Russia so we’re happy Russian literature has found so many ways to amuse us with everything from eighteenth-century epigrams to post-Soviet absurdity. Pushkin and Gogol were born a little early for audio recordings but this set of clips offers up voices of three twentieth-century Russian writers especially noted for their satirical humor.
Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was known for political activism and satirical plays like The Bedbug and The Bathhouse. The clip below showcases the timbre, rhythm, and atmosphere of his physical and literary voices. And then there’s Mikhail Zoshchenko, a beloved satirist who wrote wonderful short stories that are bitingly funny. Many are available in translation, including “The Affidavit,” which you can hear Zoshchenko read below. As for Yuri Olesha, need we say more than that his novel Envy, in Marian Schwartz’s translation, begins with these two lines: “Mornings he sings on the toilet. You can imagine the joie de vivre, the health this man enjoys.”
Read Russia! Hear Russia!
- Russian text of Mayakovky’s “Unusual Adventure”
- English text of Mayakovsky’s “Unusual Adventure”
- Russian text of Zoshchenko’s “The Affidavit”
- “The Affidavit” in English translation, in Nervous People and Other Stories, on Google Books, translated by Hugh McLean and Maria Gordon.
- “Discovering Zoshchenko,” by Alexander Melikhov, on Russia Beyond the Headlines
- Olesha’s Envy on Google Books
Image credit: Monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky, Moscow, photo from Vladimir OKC, via Creative Commons
Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky recites, dramatically and sometimes almost singing, his 1920 “An Extraordinary Adventure that Happened to Vladimir Mayakovsky One Summer at a Dacha.” The dacha was in Pushkino.
Mikhail Zoshchenko, famous and beloved for satirical stories that reveal the absurdity of Soviet life, reads “The Affidavit,” a brief story from 1929 about a young Saratov couple and a certain legal document…
Yury Olesha reads a small chunk of his No Day Without a Line, a book published posthumously, in 1961, that provides autobiographical material and reflection. Olesha is especially known for two things: his novel Envy (or perhaps his The Three Fat Men) and the phrase “engineers of the human soul.”