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Showing posts from June, 2014

Nastasya Filippovna: A Woman Scorned

Of the many characters we see in Dostoyevsky's novels, few of the principal characters are female. However, in one of his more famous novels, The Idiot, we find perhaps one of the strongest female characters of most nineteenth-century literature, if not of Europe, then at least of Russia. Nastasya Filippovna, a proud, yet exploited woman, is by far one of Dostoyevsky's most intriguing characters. She has an instantaneous and dramatic affect on the characters surrounding her. Nastasya Filippovna has been systematically destroyed by her surroundings. She finds she is unable to survive in the society of her time. Valued by men only for her beauty or her possessions, feared by jealous women, Nastasya Filippovna succumbs to insanity and finally, her own murder. Believing herself to be guilty and in need of punishment and purification, Nastasya Filippovna fights yet, finally, submits herself to destructive forces that surround her.

Nastasya Filippovna, defined by her sensual beauty a…

Weber Invitation To The Dance Nadja Saidakova Vladimir Malakhov

Anna Netrebko's interview to Andrey Malakhov (with English subtitles)

Ana Netrebko " From Janitress to Opera Diva" - Documentary

Subtly Worded, and Other Stories by Teffi - a traditional Russian form is given a good hiding

Pushkin Press has done it again: made me fall in love with a writer I've never heard of. It was the first paragraph of the first story here, "A Radiant Easter", that did it. I hope it has a similar effect on you:

"Samosov stood there gloomily, watching the deacon with the incense and thinking, 'Go on, swing that incense, swing that incense! Think you can swing yourself into a bishopric? Some hope!" Written more than a hundred years ago, "A Radiant Easter" takes a traditional Russian form – the "uplifting" religious story – into a quiet alleyway and beats it to death. Like many of the stories here, it is so brief as to be almost a joke. It illustrates the way we pick on those lower than us in the social order. We see the misery being handed down all the way to a cat by a dustbin: "But what did the dustbin care? It said nothing." Yet each person is granted some humanity, some character. There is a very thin but discernible kind str…

Inside the Soviet Union's Secret Erotica Collection

In the depths of the Russian State Library, Marina Chestnykh takes the creaking elevator up to the ninth floor. She walks past stack after stack of books behind metal cages, the shelves barely visible in the dim light from the frosted-glass windows. This is the spetskhran, or old special storage collection — the restricted-access cemetery for material deemed “ideologically harmful” by the Soviet state. She arrives at a cage in the floor’s back corner. When she inserts a key in the padlock, the door swings open to reveal thousands of books, paintings, engravings, photographs and films — all, in one way or another, connected to sex. It was the kinkiest secret in the Soviet Union: Across from the Kremlin, the country’s main library held a pornographic treasure trove. Founded by the Bolsheviks as a repository for aristocrats’ erotica, the collection eventually grew to house 12,000 items from around the world, ranging from 18th-century Japanese engravings to Nixon-era romance novels. Off limi…

Pasternak Bound

In the 1970s and 1980s there was a 'shop' in Pimlico where visitors to - and from, if they were daring - the USSR could select free of charge any number of books, largely Russian poetry, fiction and history banned by the Soviets, as long as they promised to distribute them to Soviet citizens. The books were often intercepted by customs, but corruption was then no less widespread than today and confiscated books would soon be selling on the black markets of Leningrad and Moscow. Not just the distribution but the publication and, often, the editing of this material, which shaped the minds of Soviet dissidents (and diplomats), was down to the CIA. The Soviet authorities were thus pushed into producing their own editions of the work of poets such as Nikolai Zabolotsky and Osip Mandelstam, whom they would rather have consigned to oblivion. The CIA's use of 'soft power', subsidising Russian-language journals and publishers in the USA, Germany and France, as well as provi…

When writing doesn't pay the bills: Russian authors as laborers, doctors and taxi drivers

Being a serious writer in Russia has never paid well. In Tsarist times a lack of widespread education confined the market for complex, challenging literature to a very small circle of readers. Then, in the USSR only authors loyal to the state ideology could live off their writing – others were forced to take on second jobs.

Anton Chekhov worked as a doctor for 15 years and never regretted his decision. Most of his patients were peasants, servants and the poor. Chekhov joked, “I practice in aristocratic houses. Right now, I’m heading to Countess Keller to treat her cook and then to the house of the noblemen Voeykovs to attend to their maid.” Many of his patients couldn’t afford a doctor, so Chekhov treated them for free. Chekhov wasn't drawn to medicine by the money. He said, “The wish to serve the common good must be a requisite of the soul, a necessity for personal happiness,” and he stuck to this belief. In 1890 he traveled to a penal colony on Sakhalin Island to conduct a census…

Anna Akhmatova: This cruel age has deflected me

“This cruel age has deflected me,
like a river from this course.
Strayed from its familiar shores,
my changeling life has flowed
into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I’ve missed:
the curtain rising without me,
and falling too. How many friends
I never had the chance to meet.” — Anna Akhmatova, The Complete Poems

In Search of Forgotten Artist Vladimir Izenberg

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The name Vladimir Izenberg does not say a lot in and of itself. It's not one that calls up images or eras, great schools or great events. Izenberg was an artist. He was born in Petersburg in 1895 and he died in Leningrad in 1969. There is no entry about him in Russian Wikipedia and he is not listed in John Milner's prodigious "Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Artists, 1420-1970," a spectacular volume that in a flush of inexplicable generosity was given to me years ago by The Moscow Times editor-in-chief Marc Champion, and for which I remain eternally grateful. Many an obscure question has been answered for me by this book, but not those I have about Vladimir Izenberg. One may say that I own an Izenberg work. It's not an original, but it is an item of some rarity and beauty that justifies my distinct pleasure in possessing it. It is a 1926 edition of Yevgeny Zamyatin's play "The Flea," published by Mysl (or Thought) publishers in Leningrad. The lively …