The house I grew up in is cozily cluttered, bookshelves lining many of the walls. My mom, a voracious reader, liked to tell me about her love of Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy even as a teenager, and many of those shelves were stuffed with Russian classics. It was about my junior year in high school when I first became interested in them, and for a year and a half I carried around a battered paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov with its work burgundy cover everywhere I went. Ten or fifteen pages at a time, I fell in love with Dostoevsky’s language and characterizations, and came to call the novel my favorite for about five years. It still ranks in my top five classics, but I will admit here something I never told a soul: I never actually finished the novel. Like Les Miserables, another brooding and beautiful master work, I fell in love with the language but couldn’t quite see the relationship through to its bitter end. As a college Freshman eagerly starting Russian 101, I told the class I was studying Russian to be able to read Dostoevsky in the original, when in fact it had more to do with my recent ex-girlfriend and I’s obsession with fake lesbian pop duo tAtU.
I’m currently taking a MOOC on Understanding Russians, and I’m reminded of this theme in my Russophilia: a fascination with the language, the culture, the style, the pathos, alongside an utter lack of commitment to actually delve deep into what Russia is. I’m a Russian dabbler: when I meet a Russian person, I’m as excited as an Anglophile is hearing Tom Hiddleston’s accent, but then I hit the embarrassment of not being able to respond to a simple inquiry in Russian about my studies. Re-learning Russian is somewhere on a to-do list along the 13 other languages I’ve studied, and I have to admit that the Russian culture is not very suited to dilettantes.