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A Bit of Heart Amidst the Darkness

A Bit of Heart Amidst the Darkness

Russia: the bear with a heart.

Admittedly, it’s not all doom and gloom coming out of Russia.

I mean, look on the bright side. Chief Federal Prosecutor Aleksandr I. Bastrykin is really sorry for driving an opposition journalist into the woods, threatening to kill him, and joking that he himself would lead the investigation into the death.  Bastrykin even offered the man (now in exile) a wrist watch! Let bygones be bygones already!

And, neither is Russia technically selling “new” attack helicopters to Syria. It has just been complying with the warranty terms to refurbish their old ones to keep them fit for Assad’s peace missions.  What’s the US complaining about? It may have invented capitalism, but clearly the West is being overtaken by its old Communist adversaries in the customer service department!

Reading about all this, you’d think we Russians don’t have a heart! Well, you’d be wrong! Today’s New York Times has incontrovertible proof of it, in the form of Dmitry Iyudin’s beautiful, warm and pithy short story, “The Russian Heart”.

The story is about the narrator’s father’s near brush with death, and the remarkable way that a body can heal.  But perhaps just as interesting and uplifting are the comments, triggered by Iyudin’s recounting of an off-colour Russian joke, that spun a warm web of humour, nostalgia and soul as readers added their own reminiscences of their parents, of Russia, of mortality.

Here are a few:

I grew up in the Bronx. My grandparents on one side came from Russia more than 100 years ago now. Yiddish was spoken almost as a first language around the house. So bear with me:

An old Jewish guy sitting on the couch. His wife says “Close the door Sam, its cold outside.” He says, “So if I close the door, It’ll be warm outside?” 

I’m shocked to think that my forbears might have cribbed their Seinfeldian humor, their robust ability to kvetch and their Olympic class talent at passive aggression from the Russians rather than vice versa.

An older Czech man chimed in:

As a born Czech I never had a reason to like Soviet Union/Russia but, surprisingly, I knew and liked quite a few Russians. Soviets installed a terrible regime in my native Czechoslovakia but Russians suffered much more under Stalin, bit less under his successors.

Now, as you write, Russia belongs to billionaires and gangsters with a new czar, relatively enlightened as Russians czars go.

I wish you lot of luck in your new country and I understand why your parents do not visti America too often. Brighton Beach is all what they need at this stage of their life. You father may have quite a few good years ahead of him. As a very old man I can tell you it’s worth it.

Then another joke:

My babushka came from Odessa — with the exactly the sort of heart you describe. 

Here’s her favorite joke (with apologies for the dialect — but this is the way she told it):

An old woman and her son live in a cabin in Russia near the Polish border. One day the son bursts into the cabin waving a newspaper. “Babushka, babuskha,” he cries. “Look at this news. We don’t live in Russia anymore. Now we live in Poland!”

“Tank Gott,” says the old lady. “I couldn’t take another Russian vinter.”




Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs