Sentences — August 11, 2008, 3:22 pm

“Shurshaschie in Buryane”

Here’s a sentence that stopped me this weekend:

For a moment he seemed to be in control of the whirlpool that had seized hold of him; then a thick black pitch seemed to pour into his eyes and nostrils—there was no air left to breathe, no stars over his head, nothing but this darkness, this ravine and these strange creatures rustling through the dry grass.

We are in the head of a Soviet commissar fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad. He has run to the lip of a ravine and is staring into its roiling contents, which his mind registers “as though a huge black cauldron were boiling”. There are “dim figures in the darkness,” German soldiers, which in the fear and horror of the tumult his brain sees as “a vast pit full of hundreds of poisonous snakes… slithering about in confusion, hissing and rustling through the dry grass.” Then comes the sentence above, in which the vessel of the self breaks, and contents spill.

life_fate
The structure of this long sentence is straightforward, distillable to the form “For a moment…; then….” The first part of the sentence establishes a state, a roiling but reportable one. A ravine is before our reporter, one metaphorically filled with snakes and boiling water but literally with Germans shooting at Soviets. Our reporter is dependably seizing the particulars of the chaos of battle, but as the sentence shifts into second gear, we see him seized by them—by “then,” which ushers in a counterstate. Sight becomes darkness, blindness; no air, no stars, nothing, only sound. The ophidian Germans remain, but only as “creatures rustling through the dry grass.”

Soldiers battle in darkness. Such writing illuminates, even in translation. Robert Chandler is responsible for turning Vasily Grossman’s

?? ????????, ?? ?????? ????????? ??????????? ??? ??????????, ?? ???????? ?????? ?????????? ???, ? ????????, ?????? ???????? ???? ?????? ??? ? ?????, ? ??????, ? ?? ??? ??????? ??? ??????? ? ??? ????????? ???? ??? ???????, ???? ???? ????, ????? ? ???????? ????????, ???????? ? ???????.

….into the lucidity above, from ????? ? ??????, which New York Review Books brought back into print in 2006 as Life and Fate. Without it, we non-Russianists could only experience Grossman via the blithe ejecta of Google Translate, which renders the richness above, thus:

That it seemed he had his seizure of traffic rules whirlpool, the feeling cover his loss, and seemed to flow thick tar him in the darkness eyes, nostrils in, and certainly no air to breath and there is no starry sky above head, there is only darkness, ravine and terrible creatures, shurshaschie in buryane.

Share
Single Page

More from Wyatt Mason:

From the October 2014 issue

You Are Not Alone Across Time

Using Sophocles to treat PTSD

From the February 2010 issue

The untamed

Joshua Ferris’s restless-novel syndrome

Sentences May 1, 2009, 2:41 pm

Weekend Read: The Last Post

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today