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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Last Word in American Kitsch

Russians thirsting for enlightenment may now purchase a book chronicling the ample history, institutions and pop culture of American society, including such icons as, on page 206: "Attention K mart shoppers ..."

It would not be surprising if the bookstores placed swirling blue lights next to the Americana English-Russian Encyclopedic Dictionary, the first compilation of its kind available in the former Soviet Union. It simply has no worthy rival. Nothing like it exists, or has ever existed, on the shelves; the book's precursors are a triad of small, thin compilations on poor paper stock published from 1976 through 1988.

Americana, which consists of more than 2,000 entries in addition to indexes to U.S. government and education, reflects more than a decade of fact-gathering by its editor, Ghelly Chernov, 67.

Chernov, who enlisted the assistance of 12 authors, organized the terms and phenomena alphabetically in English -- from AAA to zydeco -- then the corresponding definitions in Russian. He did not attempt to identify all the meanings of a word but, rather, the greater relevance.

For example, there is no entry for abortion. But there is a substantial discussion about the "abortion controversy." A similar approach was used for such corrosive American issues as affirmative action, right-to die laws, welfare reform and white flight.

"In the former Soviet Union, it was popular to have encyclopedias like this one ... about modern Soviet history. But I've never seen one about the U.S., especially in Russia. It looks like a serious enough edition," said Moscow businessman Sergei Obeltchenko, 42.

Molecular physicist Sergei Kazakov, also 42, agrees. "It's very seldom found, this genre, this kind of dictionary -- both linguistic and [about] the country ... It will be useful for learning English," he said.

The edition is presently on sale for 493,000 rubles ($91) at the Progress bookstore. However the book's publisher, Polygramma of Smolensk, believes the price will drop -- to between $70 and $90 -- after it is distributed elsewhere. The book will be offered at cost to schools and libraries which request copies as reference materials.

Detailed distinctions are drawn between the Alamo, Alamo (Rent-A-Car) and the Alamo (Navajo) Reservation. Likewise, there are successive references to drive-aways, drive-ins and drive-thru windows. Perhaps it is criminal that "felony" is granted 23 lines by Chernov while "Feminism" is given merely five. But he mitigates the slight with references to Women's Liberation and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Alexei Nelipa, 19, a student, was surprised to learn an obscure fact during his perusal of the book: Buck Rogers, intergalactic protagonist of American movies and television, was originally a comic book figure.

"We don't expect that every American, and God forbid every Russian, will know all the terminology," said one author, Michael Vasyanin.

The book even offers up its own translations of English words and phrases by sound, not just letter-by-letter.

It incorporates the term, French and Indian War, upon first reference although Russian historians have labeled the conflict the Seven Year War. Chernov said he opted for the American term because the seven-year definition pertains only to European involvement -- as the war constituted a total of nine years for North Americans.

A significant drawback, perhaps, is its absence of illustrations. There are also occasional spelling errors, and incomplete definitions. For instance, the book mentions self-addressed envelopes but does not cite a more pervasive term, SASE -- or self-addressed, stamped envelope.

And it excludes topics like "red diaper babies." Go figure. But the gaps are overwhelmingly disproportionate to the cascade of information contained within its 1,308 pages.

In the 1960s, Chernov co-authored the Russian-English, English-Russian Pocket Dictionary -- which sold more than 10 million copies over 26 editions primarily in the former Soviet Union. For that, he said, he received merely enough money "to buy a few packs of cigarettes, Russian ones at that." Perhaps the future portends differently for him, this time.

"The book is not for everybody," remarked the physicist, Kazakov, "but everybody will want to have it."

The Progress bookstore is on the first floor of 17 Zubovsky Bulvar.