Readers of Russian novels often complain that it is difficult to follow the narrative because of the complexity of names. People can be called by their name, nickname, full formal name and patronymic, or by surname or title. Add to this numerous affectionate-familiar suffixes used with the main name and it can be a nightmare!
I can assure you that not only it is difficult for a non-Russian reader. It can be quite a challenge for a
native Russian reader too.
Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate dramatised on BBC's Radio 4 this week
has about a thousand characters, as many as Tolstoy's War and Peace.
Producers of the radioplay found a clever solution: on the programme
web-page there is a map of the main characters complete with cartoon
portraits and dotted lines showing their relationships.
I found one cartoon a bit puzzling, though. Viktor Shtrum, the physicist
working on the Soviet nuclear programme, is given a short beard of the
kind that became fashionable among the young Russian intellectuals in
1960s, perhaps after Ernest Hemingway. In 1940s only the eccentric few
would wear such a beard, certainly not a relatively young man like
Shtrum, raised under Soviet rule.
I wonder if the drawing is after the beard that is currently worn by
Kenneth Branagh who plays Shtrum, or Branagh was made to grow a
'Russian' beard for the Life and Fate photoshoot which is now on the BBC
The episodes broadcasted so far are brilliant. They can be downloaded from the Radio 4 web-site as podcasts.