Coming Attractions From the Non-Roman Acquisitions Team

Duke strives to have a diverse collection that supports the research interests of its students and faculty. What you might not know is exactly how diverse that collection can get! One of the best parts of working in library acquisitions is getting to be the first people to see the surprising and fascinating materials that get added to our collection every day.

Here is a quick tour of some material that might surprise you – inter-generational whimsy in the chill of Russia, humanity in propaganda films of North Korea, the co-existence of modern tension and long history in China, and effervescent, universal proverbs from Egypt.

(Disclaimer: Some of this material might still be in process when you read this. That’s OK – just think what else might be on the shelf waiting for you if you go looking!)


Arabic proverbs mirror the beauty of the Arabic language and Arab culture. These proverbs in the Egyptian dialect are part of everyone’s daily routine and life. Each situation has a proverb that fits it perfectly. It is Arabic wit and humor while at the same time the proverbs have lessons we learn from. Their meaning is universal as there are similarities found in other languages.

على رأي المثل      (Find it in the catalog)


Literal translation: If your friend is honey, don’t lick it all.
Hidden meaning: Don’t take advantage of your friends.


Literal translation: After his hair went white, he went to school.
Hidden meaning: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Applicability: Used to criticize someone old trying to do things more suited to young people


Literal translation:  Wonders don’t please him, and even if we postpone Ramadan fasting until next year, he won’t be pleased.
Hidden meaning: Criticism of someone who’s impossible to please.
Applicability: To comment on someone who puts down everything or everyone (Fouzia El Gargouri)


Duke also purchases DVDs of North Korean films for many reasons. We have the opportunity to analyze them as avenues of propaganda and to experience them as humans who may have similar goals, needs, and hopes. Check out two examples of new arrivals below:

사랑 의 종 소리 = The bell of love (Find it in the catalog)
From the back: “Soldiers and people rebuild the branch school on the remote island which was destroyed by flood disaster with join efforts to that they could ring the bell of education forever.”


내 삶 이 닻 을 내린 곳 = My last home (Find it in the catalog)
From the back: “Myong Son is an unconverted long-term prisoner who is embraced in the bosom of the Republic after 45 years of struggle behind the bars in south Korea from the time of the Korean war which was unleashed by the US imperialists, holding fast to his conviction. It is only one year that he spent in the embrace of the Republic. During this period, what did he experience and what is the prop that has supported his destiny?”

These films (and the other films and books in the Duke collection from North Korea) are a great opportunity to consider the intentional and unintentional messages we send when we create literature and art. Piqued your interest? Browse the LibGuide on North Korean films at Duke. (Sara Biondi)


Бумажная архитектура : Антология / Юрий Аввакумов
(Paper architecture: Anthology / Yuri Avvakumov)
(Find it in the catalog)

A peek into an art book can be a window into the dialogue between generations—and into Russian cultural history more broadly. Russian Futurists of the 1920s designed avant-garde architecture to bring their cities into a post-revolutionary modern world. With a relatively clean slate but no resources, many of their designs remained as “paper architecture,” — utopian dreams and sketched images which were never realized in bricks or steel.

When Russian avant-garde architects and artists returned to ‘paper architecture’ during the late-Soviet glasnost’ of the 1980s, they adopted some of the same forms and tropes of the 1920s works–but they were no longer dreaming of a “communist city of the future.” Some images showed a focused collision of themes, as with “Sea Battle” and the (divergent) houses of cards. But sometimes the new generation “just dreamed”; their more personal drawings seem to express longing for the whimsy of private and natural life.

Александр Зосимов – Морской Бой (1985)
Aleksandr Zosimov – “Sea Battle”

Photomontage with images of buildings, a sea foreground, a sky background, and a ship.


Николай Ладовский – Коммунальный Дом (1919)
Nikolai Ladovskii – “Communal House”
A drawing of a house of cards with a prominent top spire, a surprisingly individual element for an architectural concept named to envision communal living.


Юрий Аввакумов, Сергей Подъемщиков – “Catapultower” (1982/2007)
Iurii Avvakumov and Sergei Pod”emshchikov’s house of cards, in 4 sequential images depicting the structure with a “self-raising” catapult-style architectural propulsion.


Никола Овчинников – Московский Парфенон (1995)
Nikola Ovchinnikov “Moscow Parthenon”

Ovchinnikov regularly uses the theme of native Russian birch in his art. Here its inclusion naturalizes the ancient architectural concept into a truly Moscow structure.


Николай Каверин, Ольга Каверина – Второе Жилище Горожанина (1985)
Nikolai Kaverin, Ol’ga Kaverina -“Second home of a city-dweller”
Usually such a living space is a tiny rural cottage (“dacha”) with a garden plot as the center of activity. Here the structure is set as a “still life” in multiple views—the table setting is among the topography of the land and then noted as features of the individual allotments. The land’s produce itself embodies the details of the apple-home and pie-garden spaces. (Robin LaPasha)


Duke’s East Asian collection contains more than 35,000 titles in Chinese. Plenty of those titles contend with the issue of modernization; certainly many are concerned with the long history of the Chinese-speaking world. Here are two recent titles that illustrate both the urgency of change and the long arc of history – both equally important context for China today.

自由係 … : 反送中運動「夢境」紀錄 (Find it in the catalog)
This title documents the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in Hong Kong (2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests) in text and photographs. 71 citizens of Hong Kong speak directly to us about their pursuit of democracy and freedom in a direct and honest way.
Find this title in the East Asian Collection.


茶馆 (Find it in the catalog)
The movie Teahouse is based on a play by Lao She (Shu Qingchun), a 20th-century Chinese novelist and dramatist. The story spans fifty years of Chinese history, and follows Wang Lifa, the boss of the eponymous teahouse, as well as the many characters that make up the society around him. It’s considered not only one of Lao She’s most important works, but a monumental depiction of Chinese history, depicting the social turmoil and seamier side of society over three dynastic periods.
More of a reader than a movie person? Read the play in bilingual translation. (Yaoli Shi)