Decoding the 1920s: A Reader for Advanced Learners of Russian
Nila Friedberg, Portland State University
Copyright Year: 2021
Publisher: Portland State University Library
Conditions of Use
This is an extremely comprehensive reading textbook for Advanced Learners of Russian. It includes many of the most important writers of the 1920s—Zoschenko, Babel, Ilf and Petrov, Bulgakov, and Platonov. There is a wealth of carefully scaffolded... read more
This is an extremely comprehensive reading textbook for Advanced Learners of Russian. It includes many of the most important writers of the 1920s—Zoschenko, Babel, Ilf and Petrov, Bulgakov, and Platonov. There is a wealth of carefully scaffolded and constructed oral and written activities that help students discuss and analyze these challenging texts. Each chapter features a fine point of Russian grammar or phraseology that presents particular difficulties for advanced students and teaches it in context. Differences in speech register and stylistics are featured prominently and include non-standard colloquial, colloquial, rude, and formal registers, dialectical speech, euphemisms, and jargon. These are particular difficult for advanced students to distinguish, so this is a very welcome aspect. The textbook also introduces students to literary history and theory through discussion of important issues raised by prominent literary scholars about the stories features in the textbook. There is no glossary or index for the textbook, but neither seem to be needed. Stories are glossed when appropriate and a clearly laid out table of contents is found at the beginning of the book.
The content is accurate and unbiased. I did not notice any mistakes or typos.
The Soviet 1920s is one of the most important periods of literature in terms of development, creativity, innovation, and cultural relevancy. It also is a favorite for many students once they discover the writers of this period. This choice of this time period for an advanced language reader guarantees that this textbook will always remain relevant for 400 level Russian literature courses. The activities chosen for this textbook represent best practices in teaching close reading and analysis in the target language. This text represents a monumental achievement in for advanced level Russian courses and is a very welcome addition to the pedagogical field. It is written in a way that it will be easy to update if needed.
The textbook is written entirely in Russian and everything is clear, well-written and accessible for advanced-level language students.
The framework of the textbook is very consistent. Each chapter follows a clear, logical design and there is a specific purpose for each activity included. The framework is the same for each chapter, so both students and instructors know what to expect. This is particularly helpful to students when working with very challenging texts, allowing them to focus on textual analysis and not wasting extra time and energy on trying to figure out what is expected from them in each exercise.
There is a clear organization for each chapter that is very easy to follow. The different types of activities to be completed in stages are all divided into separate sections marked with subheading in text bars and shading. Within the different sections, each activity is clearly marked with either a writing or speaking icon, and is clearly titled and numbered. Use of shaded boxes, bold text and italics make the sections visually appealing and easy to follow. The story selections are only 2-4 pages long and easy to navigate. Glosses appear at the bottom of the page and are only in the target language. It would be very easy to organize these chapters into sub-units.
Each chapter of this textbook features a short story or except from a longer piece of literature and carefully scaffolded activities that lead students from simple recall of the story’s events to interpretation and literary analysis. The introduction to the textbook provides target proficiency levels for different types of exercises to help instructors know which activities will be appropriate for their students. Activities range from Intermediate High to Superior levels of proficiency.
Each chapter opens with prereading exercises familiarize students with key cultural terms critical for understanding the story. But, instead of providing definitions, students are responsible for looking up the terms themselves, turning these into opportunities for active learning. Post-reading activities consist of two types: preparatory written activities to be completed at home prior to coming to class, and discussion and textual analysis activities. The preparatory activities start with typical plot checks and require use of past tense narration. Other exercises challenge students to guess the meaning of fixed expressions, idioms, colloquialisms from the context of the story and to translate chosen quotes.
Discussion and textual analysis activities begin with warm-up conversations to help students recall what they have read at home and oral narration of the story’s events. Students then move into analyzing quotes from the text to begin interpreting the story’s characters and their motivations. The opportunity for a close reading of a portion of the story is provided and students are given specific questions to help them deconstruct and analyze the text and language. Each story features a 1-minute extemporaneous speech topic that allows the student to assume the identity of a character and discuss some aspect of the study from their point of view. To help students move into written analysis of the stories, frameworks for letters, complaints, and other types of writing are provided that help lead students to begin higher level analysis. The activities become more challenging as students are asked to give mock speeches, defend characters, assume the identity of the writer or a literary censor. The various scenarios not only provide the opportunity for extended paragraph length speech, but also require students to put forth arguments and to defend them. Ideas provided for optional presentations and essays are very creative and fun. Some ideas include giving virtual tours of a story’s location, writing a vignette about going to the post office or the Department of Motor Vehicles in the style of Zoshchenko, writing the continuation of a story, rewriting the story from another character’s point of view, and reimagining a classic painting in the vein of a given story.
The interface is crystal clear and there are no issues with it whatsoever. The text is very easy to navigate. The type face is crisp and all charts are clear and easy to see. The images are also excellent quality. Those that may be less than ideal quality are due to the age of the image and the quality of photography in the USSR in the 1920s.
I did not notice any grammatical errors and grammar explanations are clear. It is wonderful that this text is entirely in Russian and assessable to advanced language learners.
As mentioned above, the 1920s in the Soviet Union are one of the most important historical and creative periods of the 20th century making this a highly relevant time for students to study. The texts chosen also feature important questions/issues of the period including feminism, anti-Semitism, post-revolutionary Soviet society, the new Soviet man, etc. While Russian literature is not known for its diversity, two Jewish and one female writer are included. Socioeconomic diversity and a wide range of experiences are represented.
This textbook is a monumental achievement in advanced language pedagogy and is a very welcome addition to the field. Both students and instructor alike will greatly enjoy working with this carefully crafted and organized textbook. The stories chosen for it are some of the best from the time and students will love reading them and discovering this fascinating historical period. I only wish this text existed when I was an advanced level Russian language learner many years ago.
Table of Contents
- Михаил Зощенко
- Александра Коллонтай
- Исаак Бабель
- Илья Ильф и Евгений Петров
- Михаил Булгаков
- Исаак Бабель
- Дмитрий Фурманов
- Андрей Платонов
About the Book
The materials presented in this book were developed for an advanced-level content-based Russian language course at Portland State University entitled “Russian Literature of the Twentieth Century: The 1920s.” Literature of this period is a major part of the Russian canon, but is notoriously difficult for learners of Russian to read in the original, due both to its stylistic complexity and the relative obscurity of its historical, political, and cultural references. And yet, this decade is crucial for understanding Russia – not only in the Soviet period, but also today. This was the period, when Mikhail Zoshchenko, Isaak Babel, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Andrei Platonov meticulously documented the birth of the “New Soviet Man,” his “newspeak” and Soviet bureaucratese; when Alexandra Kollontai, a Marxist revolutionary and a diplomat, wrote essays and fiction on the “New Soviet Woman”; when numerous satirical works were created; when Babel experimented with a literary representation of dialects (e.g.,Odessa Russian or Jewish Russian). These varieties of language have not disappeared. Bureaucrats still use some form of bureaucratese. Numerous contemporary TV shows imitate the dialects that Babel described. Moreover, Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog” gave rise, due largely to its film adaptation, to catch-phrases that still appear throughout contemporary Russian media, satirical contexts, and everyday conversation. Thus, the Russian literature of the 1920s does not belong exclusively to the past, but has relevance and interpretive power for the present, and language learners who wish to pursue a career in humanities, media analysis, analytical translation, journalism, or international relations must understand this period and the linguistic patterns it established.
The textbook is intended for adult learners, and contains language assignments that would, on the one hand, help students transition to ACTFL’s Advanced proficiency level (i.e., be able to create "narratives, descriptions, and summaries … using paraphrasing and elaboration” (ACTFL 2012: 12).), but at the same time promote meaningful engagement with literary texts. The assignments in this textbook are multilevel ones, and thus offer a solution for multilevel classes that include literate heritage Russian speakers, Intermediate High, Advanced, or even Superior-level readers.
About the Contributors
Nila Friedberg's interests include linguistic approaches to literature, language contact, twentieth century Russian poetry and poetics, and Russian Jewish literature. She is the author of English Rhythms in Russian Verse:
On the Experiment of Joseph Brodsky (Mouton de Gruyter, 2011) – a monograph which investigates the “English” flavor in Joseph Brodsky’s verse and traces the semantic associations of “English-sounding” rhythms in Brodsky’s Russian poetry. She is also a co-editor, with B. Elan Dresher, of the volume Formal Approaches to Poetry (Mouton de Gruyter, 2006). She received her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Toronto in 2002 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Slavic Department in 2002-2004. At PSU she teaches, or has taught, Russian Phonetics and Phonology, Languages of the World, all levels of Russian, Russian for Heritage Speakers, Poets and Politics, Twentieth and Nineteenth Century Russian Literature (in Russian). She has previously taught Russian at the Middlebury College Russian School and UCLA, taught linguistics and phonetics at the University of Toronto and York University in Canada, and served as a coordinator of the Heritage Russian program at PSU in 2004-2009.