The Bibliophile's Guide to Dunno

Once upon a time, there existed a superpower - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the largest country in the world. Spread across an area of 22 million square kilometers, it covered one-sixth of the Earth's land surface - equivalent to seven times the size of India.

In the decades after it was established [in 1922], the Russian-dominated Soviet Union grew into one of the world’s most powerful and influential states and eventually encompassed 15 republics – Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved following the collapse of its communist government.” ~ 

Before the liberation of the Indian economy in 1991, the same year that the Soviet Union collapsed, India and the USSR often sided up to each other.

While Indian movies in Hindi were hugely popular in Russia, translations of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin poured into India...

[...books on literature, science, comics and everything else by publishers like Raduga, Progress, Mir and others.]

At least a few generations of Indians from the 1960s onwards grew up reading Russian literature, not least because these books were sold cheaper than most others in the market.

The books of the Soviet Union were almost always hard-bound, beautifully illustrated and with the prettiest covers.” ~ Deepa Bhasthi


"When I asked friends – many of them now writers and publishers – for their memories of Soviet books, it was like opening the floodgates." ~ Nilanjana S. Roy, The Girl Who Ate Books: Adventures In Reading, HarperCollins India.

Read an excerpt from her book below...

Apart from the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin whose published works are easily available to read even today, there was a man named Nikolai Nosov...

Blending fairy tales, fantasy, and science fiction, Nikolai Nosov wrote children’s literature whose playful prose delivered powerful insights into human nature.

His humorous trilogy of novels [published between 1954-67] about the misadventures of a very small boy named Neznaika (whose name translates as “Know-Nothing” [or Dunno] in English) made Nosov a favorite of young readers all over Russia and beyond.

Set within a town in fairyland populated by tiny people called “Mites” who are “no bigger than a pine cone,” the action centers around an impulsive and easily distracted boy whose belief that he knows everything is always getting him into trouble.

In 1969, Nosov won a new literary prize for his trilogy, which has since been adapted into numerous film versions, endearing his characters to countless generations of readers as parents who grew up on Neznaika grow up and [read] the books to their own children.” ~ Google Doodle, 23rd November 2018

In the years after Joseph Stalin’s death, the Soviet Union made a concerted effort to distribute books to India and many other postcolonial nations, offering them at low or no cost, [as part of their soft power expansion].

The Soviets translated texts from all the different Soviet languages into 13 Indian languages as well as English… They had the largest translation programme in the world.” ~ Jessica Bachman, Department of History, University of Washington as quoted by Paromita Sen, The Telegraph

So by what name do you know Dunno?

It has been 26 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but its children’s books still fire the imaginations of those who grew up reading [them]. The glossy books, with their touching stories and fascinating illustrations, served as a sort of connection between distant lands sharing a belief system.

The last of them arrived from Moscow in 1991 and gradually disappeared from bookshelves over the last quarter century, save for an odd library or in a bibliophile’s collection.” ~ TA Ameerudheen

Also in 1991, a 30-something-year-old bibliophile walked into a bookshop in Delhi's Khan Market and walked out with her hands full and her purse empty.

This establishment had just received the last ever shipment of children's books from Moscow's Raduga Publishers, including several issues of 'Dunno's Adventures', and was offering them for ₹2-₹5 each - a steal!

On behalf of all her relatives, she gifted Nikolai Nosov's words to her son on his sixth birthday and introduced him to the world of Mites...

Nikolai Nosov's trilogy consists of The Adventures of Dunno and his Friends (1954), Dunno in Sun City (1958) and Dunno on the Moon (1966).

The first book consists of 30 chapters and was translated to English by Margaret Wettlin, an American-born translator of Russian literature, who lived for nearly 50 years in the USSR. 

Till the time it ceased to exist along with the Soviet Union in 1991, Raduga Publishers of Moscow had published the first seventeen chapters as individual 20-pages-long books, complete with stunning coloured illustrations by Boris Kalaushin.

And now, twenty-nine years later, fifteen of these rare literary treasures can still be found in my personal collection, courtesy my father's impeccable preservation skills.

As existing copies are mostly unavailable...

...or slightly out of budget... is my utmost pleasure to announce that I will be digitizing Dunno and his Adventures for kids of all ages across the globe to access, share and enjoy.

Here's presenting Book One of the collected adventures of Dunno and friends...

Click here for the first ever adventure - an introduction to the Mites of Flower Town...

Happy Reading!! :)

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