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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Compiler Indulges Illicit Wit




Konstantin Dushenko collects bon mots from all over the world. The Moscow-based compiler has a library of 100-odd books of witticisms published in many foreign languages, including more than a dozen English titles, such as The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations.


But such collections in Russian have been as rare as gold dust. Soviet authorities and Communist ideologists always considered joking a vice and dullness a virtue. Referring to the great 19th-century tragicomic Nikolai Gogol, Stalin supposedly remarked that we do need Gogols, but not such bitter ones.


The intake of foreign wit in Soviet times was limited to the likes of Oscar Wilde and Jerome K. Jerome. As for native authors, some comedy classics did find their way into print, among them books by Mikhail Zoshchenko, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov. But only in small doses and not too often.


Dushenko found fame and fortune two years ago with his popular annotated dictionary of the utterances of Soviet politicians from Vladimir Lenin to Boris Yeltsin.


Now he has started an ambitious project to assemble 10 volumes of world witticisms, collected according to themes and mass produced in handy pocket-size cheap hardcovers. His publisher is Eksmo-Press, the same house that issues the phenomenally successful detective novels of Alexandra Marinina.


Five volumes from Dushenko's series are on sale now in the low season. Each has already had several printruns, while a couple more volumes are scheduled to appear at the International Moscow Bookfair in early September.


Seventy to 80 percent of the quotations are of foreign origin and are translated by the compiler. The rest are Russian and range from the pre-war master of bon mots, Emil Krotky, to our contemporaries Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky.


Each volume contains about 2,000 quotations and can be bought for 15 to 25 rubles.


Among the topics: "There Are No Cheap Politicians," "Women Can Do Anything," "Weaknesses of a Stronger Sex" and "Work Is Not a Wolf" (the beginning of the Russian proverb that ends "It will not run away").


Here is a small sampling:


-"I think we should speak the truth, or at least say what we think." (Luzhkov)


-"It is not as bad to be with a woman as it is good [to be] without her." (Vladimir Pekarsky)


-"We could do a lot if we did not have to work." (Boris Zamyatin)


-"Patriotism stops where tax declaration starts." (Maxim Zvonaryov)


-"It is better to be ill but rich, than poor but ill." (Nikita Bogoslovsky)