Ivanov and Kondratyev are two Russian writers that you probably haven’t heard of (unless you read Russian, of course).
“When Volodka the Lieutenant got up into the back of the tram, everyone recoiled from him. Understanding why, he immediately grew furious and turned against the public.
There was, actually, one woman who got up and offered him her seat.
– Sit down, army comrade… – He looked at her with such dead eyes that she flinched and muttered to herself – My God, and he’s so young…
Muscovites rarely saw men like him – straight from the front lines, processed and minced by the war, in bloody coats with bullet holes, in boots covered with burns and month-old mud. And so they gazed at Volodka. They gazed at him with sympathy. Some older women grew teary-eyed, but he was annoyed by this – what the hell were they staring at? Yeah, he wasn’t exactly coming home from a resort. Perhaps they thought that war was like what they saw in the movies. The men irritated him especially – clean-shaven, with their little ties.
When he took the seat that the woman had given up for him, the people nearby drew away from him, which added to his irritation – oh, so he was a bit dirty, huh? He sat, biting his lips and not looking at anyone, until he felt so utterly uncomfortable – it wasn’t as if he dreamed of coming back to Moscow like this – that he tore at the collar of his coat, exposing his brand spanking new For Courageous Service medal. Here you go, check it out! You noticed the dirt and the blood, but paid zero attention to the medal! Getting up quickly, he walked away from the seats, pushing a well-dressed man with a briefcase in a move that wasn’t entirely accidental.” – Vyacheslav Kondratyev, “Convalescent Leave.”
“There were so many stars in the sky that it seemed as though one could not take a step up there without hearing them crunch underfoot. Although, apparently, no one walked there, because it was so quiet that one could hear how tomorrow’s waves were gathering in the river deep, how the moonlight rustled as it softly settled down upon the earth, how Tata’s little heart beat beneath the warm blankets, how metal corroded with a crackle, how the spring grinned as it strode tirelessly from afar, how the wind ruffled the weightless feathers on the wings of dreams, how the tears that would not be wept ripened in the soul, how a wave lightly rocked the boat which was not, after all, untethered from the dock, how it rhythmically rocked that boat – from the bow to the stern, from the bow to the stern, from the bow to the stern…” – Alexei Ivanov, “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away.”
Kondratyev served in WWII, engaging in heavy combat by Rzhev in what was a horrible, horrible time for Soviet troops. He was wounded, he got a medal for courage, he got time off, was wounded again – spending six months in the hospital – got a disability discharge. He began getting published when he was already in his late 40’s.
Kondratyev shot himself in 1993. He was very ill. Like many of his fellow citizens, he was also impoverished. And, according to at least some of his friends, he was dismayed and disgusted by what was happening to Russia.
Alexei Ivanov was born in 1969, in Perm, in the Urals. A lot of people (many of them people I quite like) say he captured the “indistinct hero” of the 1990s. “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away,” which is set in Perm, was recently made into an excellent film starring Konstantin Khabensky.
I took liberties with the Kondratyev’s translation – in terms of purging the ellipses he was fond of, and making it more colloquial-sounding in modern English (it’s pretty colloquial in Russian – and while some of the language is dated, a lot of it is still the kind of language you can hear in the streets).
I take a lot of liberties with translations.
(I take a lot of liberties in general.)
Incidentally, it’s my opinion that anyone who wants to at least try to understand Russian masculinity ought to begin their journey by reading Kondratyev and Ivanov. Sadly, these two haven’t been translated into English. (This, of course, can only mean one thing – someone really ought to give me a grant. We can call it the “Understanding Russian Masculinity” grant. We won’t be dealing with an exact science, but who cares about that, right?)
There is a very particular, bittersweet joy in reading and translating these two. And that’s my gift to you guys. Merry Christmas.