NON-FICTION: From Russia, with love
During the 20th century, Russia remained isolated from the rest of the world for most of the time due to the infamous Iron Curtain. Though things have somewhat changed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, travel to Russia still remains less frequent compared to journeys to other lands. Given these circumstances, a travelogue covering Russia evokes considerable interest.
Roos Ki Aek Jhalak, written by Salma Awan, is a comprehensive piece of work. It not only describes monuments but also throws some light on the history and culture of the country. It takes the reader around to various tourist spots, mostly palaces and castles of Czars, and museums in the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Awan also refers to the lives of some of the renowned literary personalities whose monuments she visits. She discusses Alexander Pushkin’s work in some detail and also mentions a number of other distinguished writers such as Dostoevsky, Boris Pasternak and others.
Discussing people, in general Awan finds Russian women to be reserved and cold towards strangers. However some of them, like Sasha of Kishinev, are talkative and intimate. Awan also notes that middle class Russian women’s role in society tends to be similar to that of Pakistani women of the same class.
While the previous generation remained mostly engaged in household work, among the present generation many have received professional education and work. Awan also meets some Russian women married to Pakistanis living there and working in trade and industry.
The problem in the book lies with the language used by Awan. In an effort to make her descriptions humorous and the reading experience enjoyable, she frequently uses slang, with frequent insertions of phrases and proverbs in Punjabi. The result is a text which lacks flow and is hindered by the use of unfamiliar expressions. Indeed the book would have served its purpose much better had it been written in plainer language.
The book carries several pages of photographs but because they are cramped together — up to six on a page — the palaces, art galleries and squares depicted in them do not come across in all their grandeur. Each photograph deserved a page to itself. Then the impact would have been greater.
That said, for those who wish to get a flavour of Russia, Roos Ki Aek Jhalak is an interesting read.
Roos Ki Aek Jhalak
By Salma Awan
Dost Publications, Islamabad