Category: Russia

Feb 08 2019

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

How did A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka turn out to be such an impossibly good book? I picked it up more or less on a whim during a visit to Texas — ok, memoir of leaving the Soviet Union as a kid and growing up in the States, could be interesting — and …

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Dec 17 2018

The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine

The first half of The House of Government located the Bolshevik party within a specifically Russian tradition of millennarianism. Revolutionary socialism would redeem the world, starting with Russia, and usher in a new era, a time of plenty, a time of the perfectibility of humanity. The second half of the book details what life is …

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Dec 16 2018

Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale

Night of Stone is a book for deep and dark December, and an amazing work of history. Carrying the subtitle “Death and Memory in Russia,” it focuses on the twentieth century, when there was more than enough of the first, and the second existed under the particular pressures of the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet governance. …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/12/16/night-of-stone-by-catherine-merridale-2/

Dec 07 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Not every fantasy features swords and sorcery, though most of them involve a mythical creature of one sort or another. Amor Towles names his in the title: A Gentleman in Moscow. In midsummer 1922, following a brief trial, Count Alexander Rostov is not ordered immediately shot as a class enemy. It seems that senior Bolsheviks …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/12/07/a-gentleman-in-moscow-by-amor-towles/

Dec 02 2018

Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale

“We made the journey in 1997, at the end of October. The winter had set in early that year, and even St Petersburg had its first covering of snow. Outside the city, and especially as we travelled north, the snow had taken over the landscape completely, levelling the gentle contours of the forest floor and …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/12/02/night-of-stone-by-catherine-merridale/

Oct 21 2018

Soviet Mass Festivals, 1917-1991 by Malte Rolf

Every now and then, I like to read a book that is of interest mainly to specialists. Malte Rolf’s work uses the parades and other mass events in the Soviet Union as a lens for examining how that society developed over the course of its existence. Celebrations reveal a great deal about a society — what …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/21/soviet-mass-festivals-1917-1991-by-malte-rolf/

Jul 24 2018

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

I can’t even imagine the amount of work Svetlana Alexievich put into writing this book: not just tracking down, transcribing and editing the testimonies of these brave, undervalued women, but also the sheer weight of bearing witness to so much courage and heartache. The Unwomanly Face Of War is an exceptionally moving historical document written …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/07/24/the-unwomanly-face-of-war-an-oral-history-of-women-in-world-war-ii-by-svetlana-alexievich/

Jun 14 2018

The Royal Art Of Poison by Eleanor Herman

I’m one of those overwhelmingly practical (some would say dull,) people who, when asked which historical time and place I’d most want to live in, answers “Right here and now is just fine.” Don’t get me wrong, like any other closet romantic, I have a fancy for the decadent trappings of bygone Europe, with the …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/06/14/the-royal-art-of-poison-by-eleanor-herman/

Jun 10 2018

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

Everything I said here about the greatness of the first half of Life and Fate holds true for the second. What strikes me most is how consistently he captures the contradictions of humanity, in situations both mundane and extreme. Some people are pitiless one moment and turn around and show great compassion the next; they …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/06/10/life-and-fate-by-vasily-grossman/

May 12 2018

The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine — Halftime Report

One of the unexpected pleasures of The House of Government is Yuri Slezkine’s occasional playful way with words. Given the subject matter, and particularly given Slezkine’s argument that Bolshevism can best be understood as a millennarian sect that gained control of the state, a reader would be forgiven for thinking that his prose would range …

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/05/12/the-house-of-government-by-yuri-slezkine-halftime-report/