Quick or dead

Posted on September 5, 2012


It’s like brain surgery through the a*sehole – a Yegorism

I can’t quite believe this, but I couldn’t find a single Belarusian proverb on Dr. Google.   How can that be? I’m sure Belarusian’s walk round all day peppering their speech with maxims and pithing their arguments with apothegms.  Anyway, it does give me the chance to use one of our Belarusian friend Yegor’s many sayings.  He twists the English language with an abandon and creativity that makes it anew. It’s like listening to Seu Jorge’s versions of Bowie for the first time.  Anyway, I have a lot to thank Yegor for.  Not only is he a source of many fine stories of his own, as another friend always asks, ‘Yegor? Is he the one who’s died twice?’  Actually, for the sake of accuracy, I think he’s now died three times (he’s still with us by the way) and is the only person I know who’s had to be carried out of a burning building by a fireman on a ladder – as I say, he has a lot of stories of his own – but I’ll also now be eternally in his debt for his introduction to King Stakh’s Wild Hunt which is a really, really, really, really, reeeeeally cracking yarn.

The story is based on an old myth, extant across North and Central Europe, of a phantasmal hunt which, if seen, presages death.   In Vladimir Korotkevich’s telling, our hero, Andrei Belaretski, an ethnographer travels to a remote part of Belarus and gets drawn into a mystery by a cursed heiress who believes she’s about to die because she’s seen the Wild Hunt. Belaretski, a man of science, sees human not ghostly hands at work and sets out, at great risk to himself, to find out who’s behind the terrorizing of the heiress.

The book opens with the following irresistible lines:

 I am an old man, a very old man. And no book can give you any idea of what I, Andrei Belaretski, now a man of 96, have seen with my own eyes.

From there we’re taken on a wild story, part Hound of the Baskervilles part Dracula. The style is gorgeously gothic and the plot has enough mystery to keep you interested.  The setting of dark marshes, foggy forests, moonless nights, hooves thundering off tussocks (have wanted to use that word for ages), lends itself to some satisfying shivers. And there’s a Freudian uncanny familiarity about this alien landscape. But it’s the pace (which is phenomenal) that is the real triumph of the novel.  It gallops as wildly as the hunt itself.

The one drawback is only being able to read this story on one level.  Belarusians must see all kinds of political allegory within its pages.  The date of the story’s setting (late C19) and the time it was written (1950) must have some resonance.  And an intellectual (with the aid of the peasantry) uncovering the skulduggery of an aristocrat is surely loaded with meaning.

Anyway, as the winters draw in, grab a cup of cocoa or mulled wine, rug up, and enjoy.    And while you’re at it, and slightly off topic, the Belarusian film Come and See is also worth watching. In fact, it’s bloody amazing and an experience you’ll never forget.   Read up about it first though, especially if you don’t have a strong stomach.

Finally, another Yegorism: There are two types of pedestrian in Belarus – the quick or the dead.    Maybe pace is imbedded in the Belarusians’ DNA.