Fact-checking people interviewed in the Independent

Oh, Boris Akunin! You so crazy!

"Have you ever seen a Russian matyrushka doll? Most people have no idea there are other dolls hidden inside."

Come on! Everyone knows that there are other dolls hidden inside. "Dolls with other dolls inside them":Russia::sushi:Japan.

Popularity factor: 12


Does he not realize that the dolls are so lame that the only reason they have any appeal at all is the dolls-inside-of-other-dolls factor?


I don't know, I think they're kind of cutely shaped.


I don't think Akunin means people literally don't know about the dolls inside actual matryoshka dolls, only that they don't know about the literary dolls inside his metaphorical novel-doll. (i.e. the matryoshka metaphor is only about nestedness, not about people not realising about the smaller dolls.) At least, it makes sense that way.

Incidentally, those dolls originally came to Russia from Japan in the late 19th century. So unless sushi is really a Russian invention...


Oh, I guess that makes sense (as an explanation for his statement). I still don't think it works well as a metaphor, since everyone knows that you can take those dolls apart (and it isn't difficult), but at least it makes sense.

And I am stunned that those dolls originally came from Japan! Man, you learn something new every day.


Speaking of Russian dollvels, have you read Cloud Atlas?


Well, now, hold your hosses, pard.

Matryoshka dolls are not a traditional Russian handicraft; the first one dates from 1890, and is said to have been inspired by souvenir dolls from Japan.

My emphasis, and the emphasized words don't exactly fill me with confidence. I myself am said to have been a many-tentacled creature from the Magellanic Clouds, but...*looks in mirror*Never mind.


Still, there are a few websites which, although not entirely ungarbled (you can just say "the mainland" instead of "the island of Honshu", guys), certainly have an aura of specificity and confidence, identifying the Japanese original model as being from Hakone (which was indeed famous for neato wooden craft of this nature) and the Russian entry point as missionaries to the Hakone area who brought one back and gave it to "an artist of the Children's Education Workshop near Moscow." And if I remember my history, the 1880s would have been around the right time for Japan and Russia to be doing the cultural exchange thing -- post-Meiji-reopening, pre-hostilities.

On the other hand, the official (but not, of course, infallible) Koujien doesn't mention any of this, saying that maybe just the shape was based on Japanese kokeshi dolls.

Also, for the Google searchers of the future: the Japanese term for nestedness is apparently 入れ子式 (overliterally, "inserted-'child' style" or perhaps "inserted-into-each-other style"), and this mysterious "fukuruma" that all the matryoshka history pages talk about is allegedly one of those Seven Lucky God guys, Fukurokuju (福禄寿).


Anyonymous: Yes! Presuming that you also want my opinion: I thought it was a fine read, and the nestedness was very well done, but its originality was seriously overhyped. "Literary" reviewers are too easily impressed when authors drop in genre ideas (clones, post-apocalypticness), even very old ones that have already been used to explore the same themes in genre fiction (clones, post-apocalypticness).

I read Ghostwritten a few years ago (it was remaindered and I bought it on a whim) and liked that one more as a book, although Cloud Atlas was much smoother technically.

What did you think of it?


Also, I'm ashamed for not noticing this before now, but the Independent's spelling of "matyrushka" is extremely dubious. I know that there are many different competing ways to romanize Russian, but I'm pretty sure that there's no system where the "y" comes before the "r" in that word.


Hat: Well, I'm sure there is, in fact, a degree of uncertainty in the matter, but I already knew the story, I just used the Wikipedea article as an illustration. And I don't regard Wikipedian hedging as particularly authoritative.

Matt: Yeah, I noticed the spelling was a bit odd - first I thought "did I have it wrong?" but then I checked the Wikipedia title and used that, after noting the Cyrillic spelling.


I ate up all three of Mitchell’s novels, but I have to disagree with you about Ghostwritten; I thought the Marco section was weak and sophomoric, and the ending didn’t really hold up. I’d like to know what you’d think of Number9dream.


I haven't read Number9Dream, though you'd think I would have. But when I do, I'll post about it.

Re the ending of GW: yeah, I have to agree with you there. I guess he was still figuring out how to handle that nested/interlocking thing, in particular, how to wind up so much at once. He did OK there in Cloud Atlas, I thought. (By gradually winding down rather than up.)

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