A Dostoevsky in 10 days, anyone?

By Xu Lin | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-03 11:57
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Paradise Time Travel Bookstore on Bakuo Street, Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region, is popular with tourists. XU LIN/CHINA DAILY

Together we can do it

Actually, Liu first wanted to read The Brothers Karamazov three years ago. But it was just not happening. That is when she came up with the group plan during the Spring Festival holiday in February.

She believed the timing was right, as the authorities had appealed to people to stay where they were, preferably indoors, instead of visiting their hometowns to meet relatives at a time when there were some sporadic cases of novel coronavirus infections. Since there was enough time to focus on the reading, Liu set everyone in her group an ambitious task, asking them to read about 90 pages per day.

However, by the very second day she realized it was not going to be that easy. "As if remembering long Russian names wasn't difficult enough, the characters in the book have three names being used in different situations, making it even more difficult to understand," says Liu, 32, who is a Beijing-based reporter and reads 60 to 80 books a year.

To make things easier, she invited her friend, a graduate from Peking University's Russian department, into the WeChat group to teach them, through audio clips, about pronunciations and variations in Russian names, thus making it easier for them to remember.

That gave her more ideas. To make the reading process more complete, she decided to let group members invite more professionals who can handle their queries and elaborate on the profound metaphors.

Soon, the group had Russian language and literature experts, including a teacher from the Shanghai International Studies University's Russian department, taking turns to share their thoughts on the book and give background information on 19th century Russia.

It was more like a study group now. Each member had to finish the daily reading task, failing which they would not be able to follow the experts' lectures or answer others' queries.

In the end, it took them 12 days to finish reading the book, with only one member quitting midway.

For the convenience of her friends, and even future readers of the book, Liu wrote articles summarizing the gist of the experts' audio messages and the things they learned in those 12 days. Fresh readers of The Brothers Karamazov can access these useful resources on her public WeChat account, Xiong Ayi (Aunt Bear).

"It's not very difficult to join such online reading groups-all you need is a book," she says. "And you can communicate with others who share similar ideas and beliefs about some profound issues."

After working for several years, Liu, who majored in Chinese language, says she had lost the habit of reading serious literature. "It's hard to immerse oneself in books these days, given our busy schedules."

Not surprisingly, the reading project was suspended after the Dostoevsky book. Because, once they returned to their work after the holiday, they hardly found the time or the energy for such projects. They decided on a few other masterpieces and voted to read War and Peace by another Russian author, Leo Tolstoy. But that may not happen until the next Spring Festival holiday.

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