Why writers aspiring to write in a second language should avoid the “Strong Opinions”

Photo by Saeeed Karimi from Pexels
Photo by Saeeed Karimi from Pexels
Photo by Saeeed Karimi from Pexels

You would think the famous author of “Lolita” was the last person to have difficulties in writing in English. The literary aristocrat Vladimir Nabokov was fluent in Russian and English from infancy, thanks in particular to the English governess in family’s employ, who later worked for the Tsar’s children. At the age of five, Nabokov added French to his toolbox.

Nevertheless, “Strong Opinions”, the compilation of interviews and letters, meticulously edited by Nabokov himself, is full of the author’s self-critique. “My complete switch from Russian prose to English prose was exceedingly painful — like learning anew to handle things after…


in search of the blueprint of a happy marriage

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As a happily (so far) married woman, I want to believe that marital bliss is not a rare occasion but a general rule. Otherwise, the opening of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” would not make any sense. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Doesn’t this “all alike” hint at not only the possibility but the routine occurrence of happily ever after?

It’s a pity that Tolstoy preferred delving into Anna’s feelings about her husband’s unfortunate ears to the exploration of the tedious matter of someone else’s happy home life. Then again, it’s understandable…


when it’s okay to interrogate your father in the bathroom

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Without knowing what the other side wants, there is no chance of compromising.

This happened when our son Mitch was seven years old. I was still recovering from surgery, which seemed like a plausible excuse for not attending the fundraising event at his school. So Mitchy turned his attention to Dad, who just came home from work.

“Why don’t you want to go to school?” I heard Mitch interrogating him in a shower.

“We talked about this last week, and you were cool with it,” my husband said over the…


Subtleties of staying in touch with family

My eyesight is failing, so when I talk to my two older boys on weekends on WhatsApp, I take my glasses off and bring the phone closer to my eyes. It’s hard otherwise to take in every detail of their faces on the screen, each in the size of a postmark.

We would talk, and my sons — the eldest a college student and my middle son a graduate student — would say how they’d been, what was new in their lives, and what was old but troubling still. …


but does it matter?

Image by Alexandra ❤️A life without animals is not worth living❤️ from Pixabay

For reference, I look like the turquoise figurine in a white fur hat above, and this story was inspired by Lindsey Moore’s post.

When I was in university, a professor called my name, I stood up, but he looked through me, expecting to see someone with a more common Russian appearance. It took interference from my classmates for the professor to put my name and my face together. Back home in Siberia, a Native Sakha having a Christianized name was nothing out of the ordinary. My polytheistic ancestors had no objection to adding one more God into the pantheon in…


Moral lessons, Leo Tolstoy and Russian education

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No parent of a primary school student in Russia would question why Leo Tolstoy’s fables remain a constant school curriculum feature. Starting from Soviet times, those fables were the material from which the younger generation got its moral lessons. While the Russian President and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church are holding hands and smiling at each other in front of cameras, Russian education marches to its own drumbeat.

A pacifist with strong moral beliefs, Count Leo Tolstoy had a difficult relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church. The highest Orthodox governing body even pronounced him no longer “a member…


The greatest Russian poet lost in translation to English

Image by Timur Mansuraliev from Pixabay

The verse by Russian poet Pushkin I wanted to use in my article seemed quite unsophisticated. Or so I thought. Russian literature is widely known worldwide, so as a rule, it’s easy to find an adequate English translation of any Russian author. This time I googled Pushkin’s phrase I knew in Russian and found the “Elegy” it was from. It had two stanzas and was about the sorrow Pushkin felt for his past and present. The second stanza began with Pushkin saying that he didn’t want to die.

Here is my supposed quote in Russian: “Над вымыслом слезами обольюсь.” Translated…


Take a compliment and don’t ask

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My husband likes food. And sales. Sometimes these passions come together and wreak havoc. One time he brought home a chunk of cheese of unknown origin. It tasted bad by itself, got even bitter when grated. Put in the oven, it didn’t melt but become a rubbery lump. I don’t remember how we got rid of it because it stresses me to throw away food.

Another time my husband found a bag of rice costing one-third of the regular price. The rice in the plastic bag looked long and brownish, the one you would use when making pilaf. I ripped…


My five-year-old son told me

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Some days children remind you that you knew the truth when you were little but lost your way over time.

One weekend morning several years ago, my half-awake five-year-old son in his superman pajamas came to my bedroom and slammed onto the bed. He lay there for a minute, pretending to sleep. When he opened his eyes, he was still in a foul mood.

“Did you sleep well?” I asked.

“I don’t like growing up,” he said angrily, tugging at the neckline of his pajama’s top as if it was constricting.

I was surprised. The…

Nadya Semenova

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