Russian history and literature get a good thrashing from truly grouchy Professor Chudo, assisted by editor Sobesednikov—both of whom are “official pseudonyms” of Russian Lit maven Gary S. Morson.
Steppe by steppe, we learn from this elaborate put-on—and put-down—about the Russian national drink (vodka), national philosophy (vodka), national song (“Vodka!”), and most recent Five-Year Plan (anti-Semitism). Obscurity becomes lucid and vice versa. Obviously Chudo knows a lot of arcane stuff about the Slavic intelligentsia and does her utmost to protect us from it. From the graves of academe she delivers the ultimate in literary criticism. This seminal satirical study works out convoluted textual analysis and analyzes textual convolutions: included are several treasures like a new Gogol tale (clearly from the hand of the master) and an undoubted story by Dostoevsky (from the hand of the same master). Along with many footnotes and shameless wordplay, there’s real verisimilitude to what might, at first glance, pass for a junior college’s selection of an appropriate sophomore textbook. All of the Russias is a large target, and this spoof hits it. Unfortunately, other traits of Russian letters (feckless torpor and ennui) emerge in the appended material of comments regarding the Russian language, some faux advertising, a spotty chronology, and a comic dictionary (festooned with much doggerel) in the mode of Flaubert and Bierce. Chudo would have done well to recall her reference to a 19th-century novel “so tedious that even its translator didn’t read it.” Nevertheless, the main text, often as nimble as Nijinsky, disses the Slavs in a manner that will certainly cause a lot of academic hilarity and possibly, as an American-Zionist provocation, a major diplomatic incident.
Despite an underdone potato or two, this rich comic serving of borscht will be deemed savory by many a Department of Russian Studies.