Come learn how he ate the dog

I’m back to deliver on my promise to start posting translations of Russian authors who are hard to find in English, and our first likely lad is Yevgenii Grishkovets (also transliterated “Yevgeni Grishkovetz”). This contemporary writer has basically made a career of selling memoirs, in many of his works drawing extensively on his experiences growing up in the heart of Siberia, serving in the navy and returning to Russia after traveling the world.

I first read his memoir “Reki” because it’s relatively doable Russian for a non-native, and I’ve just finished reading the equally autobiographical “How I Ate the Dog,” a monologue performed by Grishkovets himself that enjoyed a near-perpetual tour of Russian theatres in the early aughts. It’s been said that this work divided Russian theatre into two eras: before Grishkovets and after Grishkovets. While I wouldn’t go that far, it certainly is unique, a kind of novel-meets-theatre bit that features extensive improvisation and add-ins by the author during live performance. Here we get Grishkovets at his finest; the experiences of his navy service and childhood recounted in the monologue are not unusual or even eventful, but the way Grishkovets tells them, they take on the thoughtful yet folksy tone of an armchair philosopher’s musings, only the result is  spellbinding rather than pretentious.

The next couple of posts will feature a translation of this seminal work, which remains relatively unknown in the non-Russian speaking West, as far as I can tell. Conveying the author’s idiosyncratic humor and semantic wit will be difficult; even the title can be contentious and has been translated alternately as “How I Ate A Dog” (there are no articles in Russian). I have chosen to translate it “How I Ate the Dog” because the title references a Russian expression meaning to acquire or demonstrate mastery of a skill, which becomes  a play on words at one point in the monologue.

Depicting Grishkovets’s talent as a performer will of course be impossible. For those interested in also seeing the onstage dynamic, plenty of clips can be found online.

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