Ours: A Russian Family Album

By Sergei Dovlatov; translated by Anne Frydman; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, New York; @1983; 135 pages.

537

I went online searching for videos of Dovlatov. There don’t seem to be any from when he was young. The ones I found show him as a hulking man, not really the writer type, more the heavy weight boxer type. Very masculine. And as I ponder that for a while, I realized the striking difference that I found between Russian and American culture. In Russian culture, men were very masculine and women were very feminine. I’m sure there were exceptions. But there, the difference between the sexes seemed to be celebrated and rigidly defined. In America, there seems to me to be some blurring. So that for me a man who seems to really own his manhood, who makes a point that there is a very clear distinction between the sexes, like Dovlatov, almost seems scary. I’m not sure I would be wrong in saying it was a very sexist culture and much of what Dovlatov says in his books seems sexist.

For some reason, like so many things Russian, I find that forgivable—there, although I would never stand for it here. Confused? Me too.

But, to the book. So I found one more thing to like D for. In the end, when his whole family left the USSR for the United States, he also took his dog, Glasha. In fact, Glasha has her own chapter in the book. He says that she was a very Russian dog and never quite adapted to America. This was the funniest chapter in the book for me.

With each passing year she looked more like a human being. (I can’t say as much for most of my friends.) I felt embarrassed changing my clothes in front of her. My friend Sevostyanov used to say, ‘She’s the only normal member of your family.’”

Glasha was such a cool dog that one of Dovlatov’s friends tried to steal her. He had to go get her back. Glasha even saved a family’s life and for this was awarded 400 grams of tenderloin—“the first time in the history of the Party that exclusive privileges were awarded to someone worthy of them.”

Dovlatov tried to arrange some “marriages” for Glasha, but none of them worked out. He explains in hilarious detail why each of them failed.

“Alas, Glasha did not become an American. What is the main quality of Americans? I immediately decided it was their optimism….My dog had a different psychological makeup….She didn’t even wag her tail very often. If a stranger moved to pet her, she snarled….In brief, Glasha had little talent for democracy. She was short on kindheartedness and loaded with neuroses. The sexual revolution never touched her. A typical middle-aged woman émigré from Russia.”

That wasn’t my personal experience, but I accept that much was lost in translation.

 

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2 thoughts on “Ours: A Russian Family Album

  1. “These people are nothing like my husband’s family, where you don’t know they love you unless they slice you open and rip out your heart. It sounds terrible, but it doesn’t hurt because you don’t let yourself feel it. That’s what I’m used to, comfortable with. Anything that strays too close to real feeling is strictly verboten.”

    *snort* have you somehow met my family (Russian) and are describing them? Perfect paragraph that describes something only few experience/understand.

    Interesting review method; engaging ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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