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The School: Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin in Russia

By       Message Mark Sashine     Permalink
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(Article changed on December 23, 2012 at 09:24)

Intermission.    Did they really read it in Russia?

As far as I remember from my childhood   Uncle Tom's Cabin was translated into Russian first somewhere in 1880s as a Russian tribute to the   US Civil War. Then it was   republished and retranslated   many times, especially during the Soviet period as   a recognized American classic. American readers would be surprised to find out that   all references to Jesus Christ, gospels and prayers   had been   painstakingly translated and included into all those editions. Most of   the editions   were   illustrated, supported by the appropriate historical narratives and   reality comments. I am pretty sure Harriet Beecher Stowe    would be   totally satisfied with the treatment extended to her book in the  far- away Russia.

The book was   designated as a summer    reading   for the    children in the 7-8th   grade. The US movie   Uncle Tom's Cabin was a must-see in English classes of the same levels.   Children would   be sent   en masse to watch   that movie on a field trip. Soviet Russia was officially fiercely   internationalist; racism was considered a   crime. At the same time the   term "Negro' was   not considered    an insult because it was a traditional   definition of    the people from Africa in Russia. On the contrary, the term   "Black' is   considered a negative connotation in Russian language   whether used as a noun or an adjective.   Sometimes   terms "black- skinned'   for Africans and "red-skinned' for American Indians   were used in Russian   everyday literature. Old   books   had   one more definition "An Arap' (not Arab), which   attributed   primarily to the story by Alexander Pushkin " The Arap of Peter The   Great'. Alexander Pushkin (the portrait   attached),   maybe the most revered person in Russia, a literary genius and as famous as Leonardo Da Vinci, was   on his mother's side a descendant   of the Ethiopian boy, presented as gift to Czar Peter. That boy   became a Russian Admiral and   a count. His name was Abraham Hannibal.

It was common   to discuss summer books   in Russian inner -- city schools. In case of this book   the discussion would happen in the History   room with   portraits of   the   great   historical figures   on the walls, among them Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln   Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. Children at 13-14 would be the senior   young   pioneers with   red ties   on their uniforms. It was customary    for   everyone to have the book in question or   share it with the    nearest person. The teacher would   monitor   the discussion   by going from topic to topic to cover the whole spectrum of the issues.

The Discussion.

Teacher:   Order, please.   We will   discuss today   the   very famous book. Anyone here wants to   tell us why   is it so famous?

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Olya: I know. It was the book   which ignited the Civil War in   the US.   It was published   somewhere in   the 1850s and the   war started in 1861 between the Northerners which were primarily industrial and did not have slavery and Southerners who were more agricultural and   had slavery as an institution.

Teacher; Who won that war?

Kolya: The Northerners won.   The were led by   President   Abraham Lincoln. He also passed a   proclamation which freed all the Negro slaves from bondage.

Teacher: Interesting. What great event happened in our country in 1861?

Sasha:   The serfs were freed.

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Teacher: Yes, the serfdom was abandoned in 1861.   That year   is   considered   a starting year   of the   Russian Industrial   Revolution. When the Civil War in the US   broke out Russia actively supported the Union.   We all know about Russian officers which volunteered for the cause and fought in the ranks of the Union Army. They mentioned this book as their source of inspiration. So   who   can   tell us in one sentence what is this book about?

Sasha:   I'll try, It is the story of the path of the slave family to freedom.

Teacher: Very good. Any   such   stories in our literature?

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The writer is 57 years old, semi- retired engineer, PhD, PE, CEM. I write fiction on a regular basis and I am also 10 years on OEN.

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