With a title that reminds the healthy Russian magical realism, this collection of essays written in an equally healthy self-irony touching upon less healthy episodes, personal and intellectual adventures in the Russian language is a journey that ends up too early. I personally would have want more word-crafted explorations, because once you are opening the box of intellectual encounter you don't want/can't stop it so fast.
Besides the personal search of meaning, the essays do have fine observations about language(s), the social and political pressures of the professional translators or dealing with hard to write or pronounce maladies. Not all of the essays are equal, but all do have episodes which contains polished worlds made of words.
In fact, for a long time I did not enjoy so much simple explorations of intellectual mussings, as the ones about reading Proust while commuting. Trivialization of a monument of the French/world literature, my mother would have judge instantly. I rather say that once you are part of the mind/intellectual games, you can see so much beauty in the act of reading Proust while commuting.
More than once, it was hard for me to accept that Laura Esther Wolfson decided completely free to learn and specialized as a translator into the Russian language, without prior strings - family, especially - attached. Therefore, her adventures in the world of language do offer a completely different perspective than in the case of someone with a certain previous connection. 'Cognition is a zero sum game (...): the additional effort required to comprehend and formulate in a foreign language is substracted from the capactiy to recall when it's over, you run a search on your recollections only to realize that the conversation has left shockingly few traces. When you leave your native language, your breathe a different substance, and like a mermaid who comes ashore, you cannot comfortably stay for long. Your native depths keep calling you home'.
Language is for her the way to take control over the reality and her identity. When she is trying to create her own Jewish story, it is through language that the deep encounter takes place, as she goes to Lithuania to learn Yiddish.
Awarded the Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors - you have to read the book to understand the meaning of this mysterious title - promises hopefully more books by Laura Esther Wolfson. Personally, I would love to read more from her soon.
Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review