“Russian in Four Weeks” and Russian Novels

When I was in Hankou, I often went into a bookstore just like my school days. To my surprise, I found many valuable books that were not available in Japan.  I bought quite a bit of professional books of law and economics for the future.  

In reality, I did not have time to read them due to the continuous work during daytime and drinking sake in the evenings, but the amount of books totaled into 400 volumes or so by the time the commanding office was transferred from Hankou.  There was no way to take them with me, so I had to sell most of them to the second-hand bookstore. The total was about 200,000 yen, which was many times more than the real cost. The inflation was going on in such a rapid pace.  

Among the books that I kept, there was “Russian in Four Weeks.”  I bought it along with “Chinese in Four Weeks” in the spring of 1944 when the commanding officers in training in accounting like myself was told to move to Beijing.  Back then, I was interested in various foreign languages.  Chinese was immediately useful, but I thought I might have a chance to learn Russian with Russian Whites who resided in Beijing.  

The reason why I kept those books even though they were not useful neither in Beijing or Hankou was because we were told our unit would go out to Harbin in Manchukuo.  Among us, Harbin was famous for the beautiful white ladies who were descendants of Russian aristocrats who lived there.  I may have been thinking it might be nice to be able to speak with them in Russian or something.  

I did not discard that book even during the forced procession in the snow from Posyet.  However, I burned all of the letters from my fiancé and parents in the furnace for making a bath right before the departure. It was really regretful to let go of those letters, which I took out from the envelopes and bound them together.   I did not want the Soviet soldiers to take them away.  I remember how vain it felt when I burnt each one of them after quickly reading the content one more time. I took the book of “Russian in Four Weeks” with me though. It became very useful later on.  

When I arrived at the gulag in Yelabuga, I ended up dividing the book into two volumes, which made two parts of Russian text covering two weeks each. Since my comrades wanted to read them,they were circulated in the gulag. Sometimes they did not come back to me when I wanted to use them myself.  Russian grammar of case change wis really challenging.  It is much harder than German, but the word order did not have to be so rigid in order to communicate.  

In Soviet, books and records were very cheap.  That was the policy of the government.  I did not see interesting novels as much, but there were many kinds of dictionaries sold in the bazars with inexpensive prices.  I bought Russian, English, German and French dictionaries there.  These became very handy because there was no Russian Japanese dictionary.  Children in Soviet were able to select English as a foreign language at school, but I don’t recall any books written in English sold in the town except for the dictionaries.  

In the gulag, there was a library for the German captives, where they had “Marx-Engels complete collection”and many other books of quality. For our reading group, I translated “Declaration of Communist Party” and almost going to try translating “the Capital Theory.”  In addition to such tough books, there were Russian novels and the German translations of the modern Russian novels.  

One of them was “How the Steel Was Tempered” by Ostrovsky.  It had 800 pages in German translation.  I remembered this title because the translation of this book was in a Japanese bookstore, but had never read it before.  Kolchaghin, the main character of this novel was a fighter in the Communism revolution. 

When I began to read it, I kept looking up the new words in the dictionary, but as I kept reading, I became able to guess the meaning without using the dictionary as much.  I recall it took me about a month to read it, but I had a sense of accomplishment when I finished it.