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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

 ““It’s not out of poverty or grief that the Russian
people drink, but out of an age-old thirst for the
miraculous and the extraordinary; they drink,
if you will, mystically, striving to lift the soul out of
its earthly equilibrium and to return it to a

blissful, incorporeal state.””
- Abram Tertz

 

You cannot separate Russians from their vodka or vodka from Russia. For over 600 years, this proud Slavic culture has – for good or ill – been inextricably bound up with their national drink. Vodka is an omnipresent and constant factor in Russian history, a drink for the great and the lowly, in times of happiness and in times of calamity. This has been expressed in literature, song, politics, history and every aspect of popular culture.

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.

In addition, most all of the hundreds of wonderful quotes from literature, theater and poetry are presented in both their Russian original and English translation, making this also a useful guide to improving one’s Russian through the lens of this ancient drink.


Reviews

"In roughly three hundred pages Trommelen attempts to capture not merely the cultural history of vodka as product but to reveal Russia’s often unhealthy relationship with the spirit and the degree to which it informs moments of individual and even national cultural significance. There can be little doubt that Trommelen succeeds in laying out the multi-faceted position that vodka enjoys in Russian life as he draws examples from literary, political, and anthropological sources....it is far broader in scope and vision than other monographs... The book is an excellent introduction not only to the specific cultural rites of drinking but also to a large number of Russian cultural situations and customs."

– John Ellison, Slavic and East European Journal

 


Reviews of the Dutch Edition

"All of the phenomena associated with Russian drinking that I know of appear in this book. Holding your breath, draining your glass 
in one swig, beer as a chaser, and usually a bite of something or another, pickle or smoked herring... In fourteen wonderful chapters, all aspects of vodka and its consumption are discussed at length. Trommelen sets the tone, and literature completes the story... The entirety of Russian literature makes an appearance. Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Babel, Blok, and Bunin – they have all written about vodka, and how! Davai! will stimulate your thirst like few other books."

Guus Luijters, Het Parool

"A pleasant, easy-to-read, illustrated book in which Russians themselves remark on their drinking behavior, specifically in their literature across the centuries, from Dostoyevsky to Solzhenitsyn... But Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka is anything but a melancholy book. You can enjoy it in sips. You don’t have to finish the bottle in one evening, and you don’t have to drain the glass in one gulp. The book whets your appetite. You just keep reading. It seems to be just as addictive as that crystal-clear beverage."

Albert Megens, Brabants Dagblad

"There has never before been such a comprehensive examination of that “drink that would give you strength when you are weak...” The book is full of examples of these sayings, and the literary quotes especially ‒ some which appear here in Dutch translation for the first time ‒ make you crave more."

Fransiska Kleijer, Tijdschrift voor Slavische Literatuur


Reader Reviews

"This book is a comprehensive treatise about vodka, much more than "just" an A to Z run through. It is thorough, complex, involved and dedicated to just vodka, yet the book manages to be accessible to the average interested reader even though it is written to an academic-plus level. The best of both worlds in fact. First impressions can and are deceiving and the more one became drawn into this book the less awareness one had as to time passing by. It is one of those books where the cliché "so good, it was hard to put down" was surely invented for." {I. Darren / Amazon}


About the Author

Documentary filmmaker and author Edwin Trommelen is a life-long Russophile, an inveterate plumber of the mysterious Russian soul, and, of course, a lover of vodka. He spent decades researching this culturally-laden drink and has now generously poured all that he learned into this – quite possibly the most thorough literary and historical compendium of the world’s most popular spirit.

About the Translator

A native of Charlotte, N.C., David Stephenson earned a Bachelor of Arts in German and Russian from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also studied modern languages, history, and sociology at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. He has been an independent translator and ATA member since 1983 and holds ATA certification in Dutch to English, German to English, and Croatian to English.

 

This book was translated and published through a generous grant from