If I had to write the Great Russian Novel (in the English language)

If I had to write a book about the history of Russia, I’d write a book that spans three hundred years of it, from the eighteenth century to the present day, a book about twelve generations of men named Vladimir Vladimirovich Ivanov.

The founder of the line was a man named Vladimir Igorovich, who named his first son Vladimir, and thus begat the first Vladimir Vladimirovich Ivanov.  Then there was the rogue Vladimir Vladimirovich who decided to fuck with the bureaucracy and name all six of his sons Vladimir, creating a spread of competing genealogies, but all of them died out in the first World War except the line of the youngest son. Each section tells the story from the viewpoint of a different Vladimir Vladimirovich, and their relationship between the times, their father, and their children.

The story starts off in the present day, with an elder Vladimir Vladimirovich worrying about his son Vladimir Vladimirovich, who is nearing thirty and is still single. He fears his son, who is quiet — too quiet– will never have children, and the legacy of the Vladimir Vladimiroviches will end with him.

The book would be called The Lives And Times Of Vladimir Vladimirovich Ivanov.

What draws me to this idea, I think, it the idea of the patronymic daisy-chaining that links one generation to the next. I could also write a story about twelve generations of Chinese men named Wang Dan, but it would reduce the name linkage to a connection between a single father and son. Wang Dan would be Wang Dan only because of Wang Dan, and nothing to do with the Wang Dan that had preceded them, or the Wang Dan that will come after. But for Vladimir Vladimirovich to be Vladimir Vladimirovich, they would all have to be Vladimir Vladimirovich.

I like the completeness of that.

(Except that I’d never write this book, because it’d too bleak for me to stomach. I’ve never gotten anywhere further than 100 pages in any of the great Russian novels that I’ve tried to read. The only one I managed to actually finish was A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch, which was something like fifty pages long. I kept telling myself, “It’s only ONE DAY! You can do it!” And I did. But I got really depressed after.)

Top image: Soviet General by flickr user seriykotik1970, reproduced under a Creative Commons license. I really did just go to flickr and enter “General Winter” into the search field, to see what it would turn up…


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