no recipe · on USSR / Russia

On Soviet Children’s Books and More

There’s a couple of posts on my blog about the books and audio-books from my childhood. It’s just that I suppose the things you read when you’re little are the most memorable and even influential things. It partially has to do with the ‘speed’ of reading, you DO soak in the book better because you do not ‘swallow’ the words as much as you can do when you’re older! This post is on a book EVERY single Soviet child read. I swear.

I’ve recently finished reading the memoirs of Korney Chukovsky‘s daughter about her father, their life in the North of St Petersburg region and their being surrounded with all the illustrious poets and painters whom they never perceived as illustrious actually. Korney Chukovsky is the famous Soviet writer, mostly known and remembered as the children’s writer – kids in Russia are still reading and learning by heart his funny poems and imaginative stories. But actually he was a prolific author of literary articles, translator and critic. It’s just that his other-than-children’s-author side has been somehow forgotten with the years. The memoirs revealed his very interesting personality, some details about the life in the region in the early-to-mid 20th century and also gave an insight to some of the famous people of the epoch.

So when I got to my dacha, I searched for the books by Chukovsky that we have there, among which there were some translated into English (I’m sure Chukovsky would have done better as he was very much into English). The illustrations were pretty much the same as in the original books we were reading with my sister and I thought it’d be curious to share some of them with you. One of them was from Korney Chukovsky‘s Moydodyr (the book was published in 1923):

Korney Chukovsky's Moydodyr

This funny illustration shows the artist’s vision of the streets of – then – Petrograd (St Petersburg’s name during the First World war to get rid of the German word burg in the original name, hence grad = city). But the world of this illustration is that of the 1950s, I think.

A year ago – Pita, Sourdough Pizza and Stewed Aubergines featuring my first journey to Kiev and some curious Mediterranean flavours.

Moydodyr character is the central figure in the book. The name can be translated as ‘Wash’em’clean’ or ‘Clean ’til Holes’ and ehm, it’s actually a talking washstand =) Really, this book gave me the creeps. Especially because we had exactly these hot (red-coloured) and cold (blue) water taps at home (remember, everything was the same in USSR) and together with the faucet it created… the angry face of Moydodyr! aaaa, scary! I’m not sure if that was what the author was aiming for, I mean, to scare the kids and make them beware the taps ,) surely the idea was to get them washing their hands instead. But I was scared – at least for as long as these illustrations remained in my mind. Well, take a look:

Korney Chukovsky's Moydodyr

The question of ‘what to give my child to read’ was a very important issue for Chukovsky, he wrote articles and books on it. For sure his children were reading only those books which were most suitable for their age. Although this Moydodyr one is haha, a bit too scary 😉

There were several thoughts in the memoirs that I mentally bookmarked (I tend to forget to note them as I read and then I just cannot find them), here’s one, in tune with what I thought some time ago. Here’s the quote:

/ In January 1925 Chukovsky came back to the house where he had lived with his family before the revolution and which he had to abandon. The house was all ravaged… And here what he wrote in his diary: /

“I do not like things and I do not pity at all the looted chest of drawers, wardrobe, lamp or mirror. But I do love myself preserved in these things”.

/ And Lidia Chukovskaya, his daughter, adds: /

“That’s right, a person – especially if we talk about a personality – is reflected (printed) in his belongings: the house that he created is also himself, his likeness; a mask, a cast – not from a dead face but from a living, working soul”.

… When I was browsing through some sites in Greek, there was a translation of one  article where the emigrants (refugees) were asked about their most precious belongings. And I thought, what IS the most cherished belonging of mine? What material thing I would miss? And I just couldn’t come up with the answer. Have you ever thought about that? Do you have this very object that you care for?

G.

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