One interesting commonality among ex-pats living in Russia? A love for good Russian literature! Although this characteristic is not true for everybody living here, we have found a fun pocket of fellow literary Russo-philes here in Moscow. We even have a common joke amongst our fascinating [read: nerdy] group of friends that the first person to quote, allude, or even mention "Dostoevsky" during conversation wins a special prize. And as much fun as this is for Rachel, it turns out that these avid readers also enjoy cycling, making them shockingly good company for Dan as well!
Last summer, our little group began a book club as an opportunity to do a little more intentional reading, discuss interesting and pertinent ideas, and just have an excuse for more frequent meetings. We also tried a new hot sandwich recipe each week, the most popular being a homemade meatball sub. We read Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Even Dan, much to his chagrin, enjoyed it and recommends it to friends. Berry excels at helping one to slow life down a bit in order to appreciate the small things and contemplate the big things. Getting into Port William isn't for everybody, but much more successfully done with a group - hence, our book club.
This summer we've added 3 new book club members, upped the Dostoevsky references, and decided to tackle some interesting and challenging reads. Although completely unintentional, our theme of the summer inadvertently became the devil. We read 3 very different selections which all feature the devil as a primary character and illustrate him in very different ways. C.S. Lewis gave us fascinating discussion over the nature of sin, modernism, and human responsibility in his Perelandra.
Next we treaded into Wiesel's The Trial of God. This sobering play is not for the faint of heart and left us with an overwhelming sense of melancholy more than anything else. The reading as well as our discussion had its profound moments and tapped into the (in my opinion) most unanswerable dilemma of them all, suffering. This play as well as its subject matter must be dealt with in some way. Wiesel sweeps you into this tragedy leaving you a bit unaware of where you've been taken and wishing you could go back. And sadly, but necessarily, it's very hard to return after taking in this difficult work.
Our final choice this summer came from one of the most acclaimed writers of the 20th century: Mikhail Bulgakov. If you ask any random Russian to name their favorite book, I would estimate over 90% would choose "The Master and Margarita." This unequivocal novel (which I first attempted in college,) has sprung to life after my years here absorbing Russian culture, language, and humor. I get it now! And so did the rest of our group. We had our first discussion of this novel, as well as our last discussion for the summer on location at Patriarchs' Pond just West of the main street in downtown Moscow. And as a special glimpse into just how influential this novel has been into daily Soviet and now Russian life, there is a sign near the Pond alluding to the novel reading: "Don't talk to Strangers."
Being foreigners ourselves, of the same suspicious yet fascinating caste from which the novel's heroes emerge, we decided to attempt to capture the essence of our group at this prestigious location.
Summer, we will miss your long hours, your free time for fun and discussion, and the weekly gatherings among friends. But "Dostoevesky Cool Club" (a.k.a. our book club,) we look forward to continuing along in life with you here. You make Moscow shine for us.
Any top reads you'd recommend for our club? Please email me or leave a comment below!