Two extracts from 20th-century Russian classics in lieu of commentary to Thursday’s State of the Federation address.
“What the hell are you trying to get out of me?”
“The same thing that my childhood friend, Kolya Osten-Baken, wanted to get out of another of my childhood friends, the Polish beauty Inge Zając. He wanted love. And I want love. I want you, citizen Koreyko, to fall in love with me and give me one million rubles as a sign of your favor.”
“Get out!” Koreyko said softly.
“Well, see now, it’s the second time you’ve gone and forgotten that I’m a descendant of the Janissaries.”
The above comes from The (Little) Golden Calf (1931) by Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Yevgeny Petrov (1902-1942). The following comes from Tyrants Destroyed (1938; English translation, 1975) by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977):
Laughter, actually, saved me. Having experienced all the degrees of hatred and despair, I achieved those heights from which one obtains a bird’s-eye view of the ludicrous. A roar of hearty mirth cured me, as it did, in a children’s storybook, the gentleman “in whose throat an abscess burst at the sight of a poodle’s hilarious tricks.”
I see that I quoted this story four years ago, after the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Four years already, and it feels like yesterday. If only time were a laughing matter.