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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Deti lesnogo gnoma

Дети лесного гнома - Elsa Beskow At Foyles' foreign language department the other day, I optimistically picked up two children's books in languages I don't know well, operating on the principle that, if I chose something I already knew by heart in another language, I'd be able to figure it out. It worked fine for Struwwelpeter in German, but this was, alas, a complete failure. My Russian appears to be even worse than I'd thought, and I could hardly understand a word. Damn.

There are really only two things I can tell you about the Russian version of this much-loved Swedish classic. First, the translation seems to be very free; if it were a bit more literal, I'm pretty sure I'd be doing better, and the few lines I can understand are far from the Swedish originals. More interestingly, there is a complete change of metre! In Swedish, it's

DAH DAH-dah DAH-dah DAH-dah

("DJUPT UNder TALLens RÖTTer")

In Russian, as far as I can make out, it's

dah-dah-DAH dah dah-DAH-dah dah-DAH-dah dah-DAH

("gluboKO pod kriVImi kornYAmi sosNI")

This feels very weird! I'm trying to imagine how it can have the same emotional resonances for Russian kids: instead of a cheerful little nursery rhyme, it sounds to me like a tearful lament. But most likely this is just further evidence of my complete ignorance concerning Russian literature.

Our dinner guest last night, a translator at the UN, is fluent in Russian. She looked at this book and read us a few verses.

It sounded much pleasanter than I had expected, but I was also comforted to find that it contained several words she didn't know. Evidently, Russian children's books are trickier than one would think!