Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Village That Has to Disappear But It Does Not

The Village That Has to Disappear But It Does Not: Would you be able to live in a village with population less than 100 people? Let’s check out how people live there. Talovka is a small village that has no leader, hospital or school. There is a butter factory near … Read more...

This optimistic Tragedy - A final interview with Tatiana Nikolaeva

During a recent chamber cycle in Antwerp a large part of which was devoted to Shostakovich's piano music, DSCH's Philippe Vandenbroek was fortunate enough to find the opportunity to talk with Tatiana Nikolaeva. The meeting took place in the large meeting room of the Antwerp Royal Conservatory, were she was found practising for the Second Piano Trio.

DSCH: Perhaps you could give us a short overview of the friendship you enjoyed with Shostakovich through the years?

TN: Our friendship began in Leipzig in 1950 and ended on his last day in 1975. During this entire period we were very good friends. Of course I had met Shostakovich many times before 1950 during his professorship at the Conservatory where I graduated in composition. But our friendship properly dates back to 1950, to the Bach festivities after the second world war. He was there as an honorary guest and as member of the jury at the piano competition where I, as a 26 year-old girl, was participating.
Perhaps I provoked him a little by preparing the whole Woltemperierte Klavier. He was really excited about this and of course I captured the first prize. But I know I won another first prize that day, and a much more important one: the friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich. You can imagine how important this was for me as a young girl. A few days after we went back to Moscow he invited me to his home and played some of the Preludes and Fugues, op.87. From then on, he did this almost every day. I have seen many things in my life, but this process was one of the most impressive. How accurately he confined his musical thoughts to paper! 

He was always busy with music. This creative process was non-stop, and not merely limited to "working hours". It is even more remarkable in view of his various other commitments. He travelled often and had many other responsibilities. Nevertheless, every day there were new Preludes and Fugues. On one of my visits he said to me. "Today no Preludes and Fugues. I will play you something of my Tenth Symphony". And then there was the Fifth String Quartet too. So he worked on many pieces at once. Yes, that was very remarkable.

So, this was really the beginning of our friendship. From then on I followed his creative career very closely and I was present at almost all the premières, like those of the Tenth Symphony and the First Violin Concerto. As for opus 87, I had no idea that I was to play the whole cycle, because he himself was an outstanding keyboard player. "Laureate of the Chopin Competition". Yes, he was very proud of that. He used to tell me how he played Scarlatti sonatas, or the Hammerklavier or a Schubert Sonata. He did play the cycle once at the Composers' Union, but that didn't come off well. 
He was too nervous and played inaccurately. And there was criticism of the formalistic tendencies of the work. So it was not performed any more. I was furious, because l knew that it was a very important work and so I suggested playing a few Preludes and Fugues myself. Generously, he handed me the manuscript, the only manuscript in existence: a treasure that robbed me of my peace of mind!

When I started practising, I became even more excited than before and it was only then that I took up the plan to prepare the whole cycle. He agreed and, in fact, we often worked together on it. I then played the work to the same people of the Composers' Union: I thank God he was not in Moscow that day! The work met with great success: it was hailed as one of his most beautiful compositions. I often played selections of the work in other programmes dedicated to his chamber music, but I performed it also in its entirety, spread over two evenings. Why in its entirety? According to Shostakovich himself, the whole work, from the first to the very last bar, was supported by a huge dramatic structure. That was his opinion, and it is an important consideration in the interpretation of this monumental composition.

 How would you describe, in a few words, the personality of Shostakovich? What impression did he make as a human being?

You know for me he was a human being in capital letters ("Ein Mensch vom grossen Buchstaben"). He was very modest, very simple, human and warm-hearted. People were always bothering him with all kinds of problems, but I never knew him to turn anyone down. He was a very delicate and sensitive man. But his modesty was, in view of his triumphant success, altogether remarkable. Another trait which was very manifest was his sense of humour. And he really loved to socialize with his good friends.

Of course there was his stern self-discipline, too. He always worked, even when he was ill. First, there was the paralysis of his right hand (that happened in Paris while he was playing the Second Piano Concerto under Andre Cluytens). This ended his career as a pianist. After that he had problems with his knees, and finally there was cancer. But on he worked up to almost his final day. He never heard his final work, the Viola Sonata, which was scheduled at a concert along with a few Preludes and Fugues and one of his string quartets. He was dead by then.

DSCH: Do you consider as trustworthy the portrait that emerges from the pages of Testimony, edited by Solomon Volkov? Is that the man that you knew for twenty-five years?

 You know this is not so typical (she slaps the back of the book attentively). No, it is not typical (with greater emphasis). And I think that Maxim Shostakovich shares this opinion. When this book appeared for the first time, Maxim was not happy with it. He didn't believe it. Well, he didn't believe everything, because there are, of course, good passages in it too. But on the whole, no, is it not typical. I think he was a much more open and warm-hearted man than the one that appears in this book.

DSCH: When I heard your interpretation of the Second Piano Sonata yesterday, I was struck by a strong inclination towards abstraction, especially in the final movement. Do you consider this typical for his music, or is this a phenomenon confined to his chamber music? In other words, do you believe in the theory that his chamber works are governed by more private emotions than his symphonies?

 I do not believe that he was trying to express something different in those two spheres of his creative output. Chamber music is generally on a more intimate scale of course. Take the Preludes and Fugues, which form an intimate diary of the composer. That is not only my idea. Two years ago I met Kurt Sanderling in Copenhagen, who, after having listened to the cycle, reflected on the music in much the same words. The symphonies serve similar functions, but in other ways.

To come back to the Second Piano Sonata. This was a work that he dedicated to his teacher, Nikolaev. No relative of mine, of course, because he was from Leningrad and I myself was born in a small town between Moscow and Kiev. I've lived now for many years in Moscow, although I still visit my little town regularly. I really love my country. It is a balm for my soul.

DSCH: A question with respect to Russia. How do you see the future of your country? And which place will Shostakovich's music be holding in it?

 You know, I am very optimistic, very optimistic! The Russian people, with men like Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky among its offspring, are a special people. They will always be strong. And as far as the future of Shostakovich's music is concerned, when you consider the enormous success that it has enjoyed in Russia for the last few years, all looks very promising. In the beginning, almost no concert organiser was interested in the complete Preludes and Fugues. "Two evenings devoted to the same composer?", they used to say, "No, we would rather have a mixed programme". Now everybody is begging for it. During the past few years, I already played the cycle eight times in Holland. You could almost speak of a Shostakovich renaissance, in Western Europe as well as in Russia.

More  here.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Dostoevsky and His Theology

by James Townsend

Alfred Einstein stated: "Dostoevsky gives me more than any other thinker."1 Nicholas Berdyaev was professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow until he was expelled by the Communist regime in 1922. Berdyaev testified that Dostoevsky "stirred and lifted up my soul more than any other writer or philosopher has done…when I turned to Jesus Christ for the first time.2 Some would assert that either The Brothers Karamazov [pronounced kare-uh-MAHT-tsov] or Crime and Punishment is the greatest novel ever written. Some thinkers within the Christian camp would claim Dostoevsky as one of our own, thereby lending added value to such a study as this.

II. A Brief Biography
Fyodor Dostoevsky3 (1821-1881) was the son of an ultra-strict Russian Orthodox father who was a medical doctor. He would call his sons names (e.g., stupid) when they got their recitations wrong. He compelled his sons to stand at attention when they spoke to him. Thus, the young Dostoevsky did not receive a very accurate mirror image of God the Father from his harsh human father.
When Dostoevsky was 18 years old, one of the most formative events of his life occurred. His severe father was brutally murdered by his own Russian serfs. The corpse lay out in the field for two days, and the police never conducted an investigation or made any arrest. There is evidence that young Dostoevsky felt something of a guilty complicity in this murder—if only, perhaps, as a death-wish. All four of Dostoevsky’s major novels revolve around a murder, and The Brothers Karamazov is constructed around parricide.
Dostoevsky hit the jackpot with his first novel, Poor Folk. Russia’s leading literary critic, Belinsky, announced a new star had arisen on the literary horizon. However, because Dostoevsky’s following works were more personally psychological than social commentaries, the radical Belinsky and other Russian writers began to be more severe in their criticism.
Eventually Dostoevsky became involved in the sociopolitical ferment of his era. He joined a group known as the Petrashevsky circle, which contained atheists and revolutionaries (during this pre-Communist period). They planned to publish anti-government propaganda on a secret printing press. Then the police stepped in. Dostoevsky was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, and a four-month investigation was conducted. Twenty-one of this group were sentenced to die.
On December 22, 1849, at 8 a.m. Dostoevsky and his compatriots were bundled away to be taken before a firing squad. They were to be executed three at a time. At the last moment a rider from the Czar came galloping up and announced that their sentence had been commuted. It was as if the writer had been granted a new life.
However, four years in a Siberian camp awaited him. Ten-pound iron chains were placed on his ankles. The prisoners’ sled was driven for two weeks—sometimes in minus-40-degree centigrade temperature—across Siberia to the Omsk prison. Dostoevsky reminisced about that lice-infested, filth-ridden cemetery-of-the-living in The House of the Dead. His release was followed by four years of enforced military service near the border of China. The only book Dostoevsky was permitted in prison was The Gospels which he retained to his dying day.
After approximately ten years in Siberia, Dostoevsky returned to society. He authored a dozen novels, often while he was in debt or bordering on starvation. In 1880 he gave a major address in honor of the poet, Pushkin. To his second wife, Anna, he announced the very day of his death. On that day he called for his prison copy of The Gospels, and the family read the parable of the prodigal son. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people attended Dostoevsky’s funeral, the first state funeral to honor one of Russia’s writers.

III. Four Major Novels
Dostoevsky’s literary offering included four masterworks. They are, in order of appearance: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot,Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov. Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov may be among the world’s top ten novels, as mentioned above.
Crime and Punishment is a kind of commentary on the NT concept of a functioning conscience. It reveals a person mentally tormented by his crime until he finally confesses it. Raskolnikov is a poor ex-student who murders a despised woman pawnbroker. In the process he is also forced to do away with the pawnbroker’s weaker, more likable sister by means of an ax.
Raskolnikov had convinced himself that his desperate sister, Dunya, and mother really deserved the stolen money more than the "louse" of a pawnbroker. Prior to the murder he had also written an article dividing the world into ordinary people and gifted heroes (like Napoleon) who are above the ordinary laws. Raskolnikov executed his crime under the guise of his victim’s classification in this unworthy group of people.
Oddly, Raskolnikov’s "savior" is a young woman, Sonya, driven to prostitution by her alcoholic father’s impoverished family. One of the classics in the novel is the reading of the story of the raising of Lazarus to Raskolnikov the murderer by Sonya the humble prostitute.
Through the persistent pecking away of the Columbo-like detective Porphyry and the gentle persuasion of Sonya, Raskolnikov eventually confesses his guilt and is sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia, where he is faithfully accompanied by Sonya.
The Idiot began as a story by Dostoevsky about a Christ-figure, the ideal man. Like Don Quixote, however, this honorable and considerate man (Prince Myshkin) is often treated as an idiot. (Our term idiot really doesn’t quite capture the flavor of the Russian title.) The prince is somewhat socially inept, unpretentious, naive, overly friendly, and innocent. He also possesses Dostoevsky’s own social stigma: he is an epileptic. Nevertheless, he is courteous, kind, gentle, and more—a veritable string of boy-scout qualities.
Prince Myshkin is attracted to the portrait of Nastasya Filippovna, a beautiful "kept woman." Upon returning from a Swiss sanitarium he makes connections with the Epanchin family, and eventually the issue arises as to whether he will marry their daughter Aglaya. Nevertheless, he is still drawn to the mentally suffering Nastasya. However, at her wedding to Prince Myshkin, a wealthy scoundrel named Rogozhin carries Nastasya away. The book ends strangely—with Prince
Myshkin and Rogozhin (her murderer) sitting in the same room grieving over the woman’s corpse. Eventually, however, the apparent Christ-figure collapses and reverts again to his former state of inadequacy (both physically and mentally).
Demons (whose title is also variously translated as The Devils or The Possessed) is Dostoevsky’s most political novel—directed against nihilistic revolutionaries. Stepan Verkhovensky is an aristocratic liberal of the 1840s. His neglected son, Petr, is a nihilist agitator of the 1860s. Petr Verkhovensky admires a young man named Stavrogin, who had been taught by Petr’s father. Stavrogin is a mysterious, cool axis around whom other characters in the novel revolve. The others he has influenced are Kirillov (an intellectual who has pronounced himself god and commits suicide) and Shatov (who wants to get out of the revolutionists’ cell group and so is murdered by the rest).
All of the revolutionists are arrested for the murder of Shatov—except the chief catalyst, Petr Verkhovensky, who escapes to Europe. His father, who has become disillusioned with the revolutionary ferment, likens the situation to the Gospel account of the demons that are cast into the pig herd (hence, the novel’s title).
Dostoevsky’s books were first serialized, but one section of Demons was not permitted into a serialized family journal. It is Stavrogin’s confession of the rape of an under-age girl and her consequent suicide, which ultimately resulted in Stavrogin’s own suicide.
The Brothers Karamazov is one of the leading candidates for top honors as the world’s greatest novel. (However, this does not mean that all of that novel is streamlined reading. Instead, one analyst spoke of the "dishevelment of [Dostoevsky’s] prose."4
Although Alyosha is—according to the author himself—the chief character of the novel, of his four great novels, this one comes closest to putting forward an entire collection of chief characters. The Karamazov family consists of four brothers: Ivan is the intellectual atheist. Dmitri is the emotional womanizer. Alyosha is the most lovable—a temporary monk. Smerdyakov is their father’s illegitimate child, who is treated as a family servant.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is a debauched and neglectful father. He totally neglects his boys and virtually maintains a harem at home. Dmitri (who is most like his father) comes to hate him. The main reason for the hatred is that they both want the same woman, Grushenka. Because Dmitri had threatened to kill his father and because he appears to have made off with his father’s bribe-money (for Grushenka), he is accused of his father’s murder. However, Smerdyakov, the lackey, is the real killer.
In the bosom of the novel is one of the greatest anti-God arguments in literature, set forth by Ivan Karamazov. In addition to the atrocities recited by Ivan that have been perpetrated against helpless children, he presents a classic concerning the temptations of Christ. It is called "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor." Also commended to the reader is that touching chapter entitled "The Medical Experts and a Pound of Nuts."
Though he is technically not guilty of the murder, Dmitri Karamazov is pronounced guilty by jury trial. Like Raskolnikov and Dostoevsky himself, Dmitri is sentenced to Siberia. In some fashion all the brothers acknowledge their collective guilt in the murder.

IV. Theological Evaluation
At this juncture we will assess five major pillars in Dostoevsky’s theological framework. Dostoevsky, of course, was not a systematic theologian by profession, so he is even less systematic than a theological thinker such as John Wesley in the way he formulates truth.
A. His View of God
In general, Dostoevsky’s doctrine of God appears to be orthodox. He exhibits no maverick views, as did his contemporary Leo Tolstoy, who was anti-Trinitarian. Intriguingly, the principal atheists in Dostoevsky’s novels (Stavrogin and Kirillov in The Idiot, Ivan and Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov, and Svidrigaylov in Crime and Punishment) all commit suicide. It is as if Dostoevsky is saying that because these characters have forsaken Life—the One who is life—they see no meaning in this life and so end their earthly lives.
In Demons the author says that "faith in [God] is the refuge for mankind…as well as in the hope of eternal bliss promised to the righteous…"5
God was the fundamental datum beneath all of Dostoevsky’s writing. That is not to say that Dostoevsky did not wrestle with that reality over and over. As a matter of fact, he admitted that he would deal with doubts to his dying day. In his five-volume masterpiece on the famed novelist Joseph Frank commented: "Dostoevsky was to say…that the problem of the existence of God had tormented him all his life; but this only confirms that it was always emotionally impossible for him ever to accept a world that had no relation to a God of any kind."6 As hinted earlier, the type of unkind father Dostoevsky had experienced in early life probably contributed significantly to the breeding of his later doubts.
In filtering out the novelist’s theology from his writings, one must take into account the fact that not all Dostoevsky’s characters enunciatethe author’s personal beliefs. In fact, Dostoevsky, "as an artist, accord[ed] equal rights to his atheists," and "it is the atheists in his novels who do most of the theological talking!"7
One character in The Brothers Karamazov who reflects an aberrant view of God is a semi-crazy monk named Father Ferapont who makes an unbiblical distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, the overall eccentricity that Dostoevsky accords this character makes it abundantly plain that the writer himself does not hold this bizarre view.
No major analyst has really raised any serious questions about the orthodox view of God that Dostoevsky apparently held.
More here.

Children of the Russian Empire

Children of the Russian Empire: S. M. Prokudin-Gorsky liked to photograph children though each photo cost 10 rubles, it was a huge amount and the photographer was not rich, but he continued to take photos of kids because he liked them (he himself was a … Read more...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviourby 

After Napoleon Bonaparte had retreated from Moscow, Emperor Alexander I signed a manifest on 25 December 1812, for a grand cathedral to be built in honor of Christ the Saviour and “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her.”  The cathedral was to be a memorial to the sacrifices of the Russian people.
The original plans laid out a design full of Freemason symbolism. Construction work was begun on the Sparrow Hills, the highest point in Moscow, but the site wasn’t able to accommodate the plans. When Alexander I was succeeded by his brother Nicholas I, the devoted Orthodox Tsar disliked the Neoclassicism and Freemasonry aspects of the project and called for renowned Russian architect Konstantin Thon to create a new design.

Facing the street side of the Cathedral.
Thon used the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern day Instanbul) as his inspiration. With the design approved in 1832, the Tsar chose a new site which was closer to the Moscow Kremlin. Work began by removing a convent and church in 1837 and cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1839.  The cathedral took years to build and was consecrated on the day Alexander III was crowned, 26 May 1883.
After the death of Lenin the site was chosen by the Soviets for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. Design of the monument would make it one of the tallest buildings in the world at the time, sitting on buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin at the top of a dome with his arm raised as if to point the way to a future of Communism. With plans for the Palace of the Soviets approved, Stalin ordered the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to be dynamited. State workers took more than a year to clear the debris from the site and marble from the cathedral was used in the construction of nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are on display at the Patriarch’s Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.
Due to war with Germany and the ultimate infeasibility of the design, Nikita Khrushchev transformed the site by constructing the world’s largest open air swimming pool.
In February of 1990 the Soviet Government granted permission for the Russian Orthodox Church to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. A temporary cornerstone was laid and construction funds began to be donated by ordinary Russian citizens. The project lasted several years and the completed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was consecrated on the Transfiguration day, 19 August 2000. At capacity the cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in the world and able to accommodate between 5-6,000 persons.

Wooden chapel of the Madonna.
A small wooden chapel, dedicated to the Sovereign Madonna (Державной иконы Божией Матери), is located close on the grounds to the rear of the Cathedral. Built in 1995, the chapel became a place to pray for the reconstruction project and for the builders and artists labouring to rebuild the cathedral.
The Cathedral served as the venue when the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family were declared as “Passion bearers” (minor saints) in 2000. After his death in 2007, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin lay in state in the cathedral prior to his burial in Novodevichy Cemetery.

The side facing the Moscow River.
The Cathedral was the site of the official signing and joint liturgy when the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church in full communion and administrative authority.
The interior walls are bronze reliefs listing the names of every Russian soldier who died in the war of 1812.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Meet Russian horror writer Anna Starobinets

Russian author of dystopian horror and apocalyptic fantasy novels Anna Starobinets talks about her terrifyingly successful writing career.
The writing of Anna Starobinets has been compared with that of a host of literary greats, including Edgar Allan Poe and George Orwell. Yet the young Russian author is still only 33.
Her literary career was launched with a horror anthology called An Awkward Age. The title story features a little boy who was so fat and awful that he repulsed even his own mother. She finds a diary in the boy’s handwriting which reveals that a queen ant residing in his mind is laying bare her insidious plan: to capture the boy’s body and then conquer all humanity. The readers are left guessing as to whether the boy will bend to his new nature like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
The horror genre came natuarally to Starobinets. “I didn’t consciously choose horror fiction in the sense that I never sat at my desk musing on which genre to choose for my writing,” she explains. “Horror, mysticism, surreal thrillers and so on just seemed to be a way of packaging thoughts, feelings, sensations, and possibly even fears, that intuitively work for me.”
After An Awkward Age was published, critics labelled Starobinets the Russian Stephen King or Philip K Dick. Despite the flattering comparisons, Starobinets is not totally comfortable with this attempt at pigeon-holing : “I believe no serious writer can ever be defined by the genre he or she technically works in or even by another writer. I’m not Stephen King, Philip K Dick, Gogol or any other writer that I have been compared with.”
Indeed, Starobinets’ horror manifests itself in a variety of forms, way beyond the devices used by Poe, Ray Bradbury or HG Wells. They range from the mystical Asylum 3/9 (based partly on Slavic folklore) to the fantasy novel The First Squad: The Truth2010 (named after the Russian-Japanese animation project of the same name) to futuristic dystopia The Living One, which was shortlisted for the National Bestseller Award in literature in 2011.
The Living One is a pure genre piece, ” says literary critic Lev Danilkin, “a classic anti-utopia, imbued with Zamyatin’s seriousness and Orwell’s acrimony, loaded with the author’s sombre expectations regarding mankind’s future, masterfully conveying a sense of repulsion towards worship of the wisdom of the crowds”.
In some of Starobinets’ stories, horror infiltrates man’s unfathomable irrational depths devouring his consciousness. In The Rules (one of the short stories in An Awkward Age), a silent voice is constantly setting rigid rules for the main character: how to walk, how to arrange things on a shelf, and how to live. Here, Starobinets manages to penetrate an altered consciousness to deliver a compelling account of schizoid behaviour from within.
While such experiments have proved detrimental to the health of some writers, Starobinets has no fears for her own mental state.
She says: “I think a comparison with [Boris and Arkady] Strugatskys’ “zone” [from Roadside Picnic] is appropriate here: a dangerous area filled with strange, unpredictable and evil magical items that you can, nevertheless, sometimes drag out and put to some use – although definitely not for their intended purpose. Inside every person there exists such a zone and some “stalkers” – people of art – venture into it on expeditions. I would not overestimate the danger of such trips.”
As well as English-speaking readers, Bulgarian, Polish, Italian, Swedish and Spanish readers can now shiver at the horrors provided by Anna Starobinets.
More here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Soviet Past of Today

Soviet Past of Today: Perm. A huge city, the third largest in Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is growing fast, invading more and more territories from the Ural forests. Old blocks are being promptly rebuilt too. Walking we pass by office buildings, … Read more...

Friday, 22 June 2012

Boris Vasiliev: The War Began Tomorrow

The guys felt awkward, as if they had been monstrously untactful, forcing themselves to be tolerated out of mere politeness. They felt an urge to leave, but leaving just like that, with nothing told or heard in response, seemed impossible, and all they could do was exchange embarrassed glances. 
“Have you been to the cemetery?” Artyom asked. He did it so sharply, his bluntness made Iskra shiver. But that was the tone that drove Leonid Sergeevich out of his stoop. 
“Yes, I have. The fence is blue. Flowers everywhere. The bush is good. A good bait for birds, too, though.”
“A good one,” Zhora affirmed, and went on rubbing his swollen fists.
Luberetsky’s voice was constrained and colorless, he was talking briskly, and having said his words, he plunged back into heavy silence.
“It’s better we leave now,” Val’ka whispered. “We are bothering him.” Artyom gave him an outraged look, then took a lungful and made a step toward Luberetsky. He put his hand on Luberetsky’s shoulder, slightly shaking it, “Hey, look… you can’t go on like that… like you do! You can’t! Vika loved a different you. And we… we did, too. You can’t.”
“What?” Luberetsky slowly swept his eyes over the room. “Everything is wrong. Everything is wrong.”
“What is wrong?”
In the twilight of the dining room Artyom walked up to the curtained windows and pulled the ropes. The curtains flew open, letting the light rush into the room, while Artyom looked back at Luberetsky.
“Come here, Leonid Sergeevich.”
Luberetsky didn’t move.
“Come up here! Pashka, give him a hand!”
But Luberetsky stood up on his own. Shuffling, he approached the window.
“Look, there was not enough room for all of us here.”
Outside, covered in lumpy snow, the entire 9B grade was standing…
“My dear friends,” Luberetsky said in a softer, warmer voice. “My dear friends…” He glanced at Iskra as sharply as he always did, “They are freezing! Bring them in, Iskra.”
Iskra rushed elatedly to the door. 
“I’ll make us some tea!” Zina said loudly. “Can I?”
“Yes, please, Zinochka...”
…Over tea they were spoke about Vika. About the times when she was alive – from the first grade – their voices went on top of each other, each trying to add and enrich the story. Luberetsky was quiet, but absorbed every word said. And sighed, “What a tough year it’s been!”
Everyone stopped talking. And Zinochka, as was her nature, said, totally out of line, “And you know why that is? Because it’s a leap year! The next year will be a lot happier, you’ll see!”
The next year was 1941.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Moscow Trees: Then And Now

Moscow Trees: Then And Now: Once Moscow was a green pleasant city. Today it is sooner a stone sack for dirty cars storage. It’s hard to imagine that squirrels used to jump and birds used to sing on lime and chestnut trees of Moscow.  People … Read more...

Kolomenskoye – museum of ancient Slavic architecture

Kolomenskoye – museum of ancient Slavic architecture:

Kolomenskoye park is one of the most ancient places of human habitation in the area of modern Moscow. You can hardly find a better starting point for the acquaintance with religious Slavic architecture of 16th-17th centuries.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Photo Tour In Kyrgyzstan

Photo Tour In Kyrgyzstan: Valley of Chon-Aksu river Red mountains Jety-Aguz Market in Caracol – here one may buy things that nobody needs or assemble a Moskvitch 412.. Local barber’s Sheep are also cut – once a year Toys for a boy… Waterfall near … Read more...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Summer Residence of Joseph Stalin In Novy Afon

Summer Residence of Joseph Stalin In Novy Afon: Since 1993 this object eventually came into possession of the Abkhazian authorities (the leaders of the USSR including Gorbachev had liked to come here), but lately it became a place of tourits’ interest. For $3 you can have a short … Read more...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Andrey Arshavin - Biography

“I can't be infected with a superstar ego, because I was born with it” 

Despite being 1.72 meters tall, Andrey Arshavin is the biggest star in Russian soccer. He currently defends the colors of Arsenal in the English Premier League and captains the Russian national squad. 

Arshavin’s position on the pitch is forward – or second forward – but he is also often called a “playmaker” as his dribbling skills and a great strike are accompanied by the “beautiful mind” and an ability to assist. 

He was born in St. Petersburg, called Leningrad back then, into a typical working class family. It was Andrey’s father Sergey Arshavin who persuaded his son to become a pro soccer player in an attempt to fulfill the dream he failed to achieve himself.

The world might not have known about Arshavin as he had been hit by a car when he was a child, but he recovered and at the age of seven he was recruited to Zenit Saint Petersburg’s soccer academy – Smena.

The young soccer player’s childhood was a difficult one – his parents divorced when he was 12 years old. Yet Arshavin never switched his focus away from soccer and was able to make it into Zenit’s main squad.

Arshavin made his debut in professional soccer on August 2, 2000. Ironically, it happened on English soil. The 19-year-old replaced veteran Andrey Kobelev during Zenit’s 3-0 win over Bradford City in the Intertoto Cup.

The youngster had to wait another year to become a regular in the St. Petersburg team’s starting eleven.

In all, he spent eight seasons with Zenit, scoring 71 goals and delivering 100 assists in 281 appearances in Russian and international competitions. He became a hero for St. Pete fans, who nicknamed him “Shava”, and the real symbol of the club from the Northern Capital.

He was named Russia’s Soccer Player of the Year in 2006, but it were Arshavin’s next two years with the club – when

Dutch coach Dick Advocaat took charge – which turned out to be the most successful.

In 2007, the forward led Zenit to the long-awaited championship in the Russian Premier League as the club owned the title just once before, in 1984. Arshavin appeared in each of the 30 league games, putting in 11 goals and delivering the same amount of assists – more than anybody in the league. He was also very helpful for his team in their successful UEFA Cup 2007/08 campaign. The Glasgow Rangers’ fans considered Arshavin (4 goals and 10 assists) the most dangerous man in Zenit ahead of the Cup’s final game. And their worries proved absolutely right as the forward was instrumental on the pitch of the City of Manchester stadium. He was named the Man of the Match after masterminding both of his team’s goals in a 2-0 win.

The triumph in the UEFA Cup was followed by Zenit’s victory over Champions League winners Manchester United in the Super Cup. The team from St. Petersburg topped the Red Devils 2-1, with Arshavin spending 45 minutes on the pitch.

A month later the player made his debut in the Champions League, but the winning streak of his team in Europe came to an end. Zenit failed to qualify for the group, in which their rivals were giants Real Madrid and Juventus, and Belarusian side BATE.

More .

E-books for the treasure chest

Sales of electronic books in Russia are growing by leaps and bounds. In the last three years alone, e-book sales have increased 12-fold. Receipts for 2011 were double the amount for 2010, totaling 135 million rubles ($4.5 million). However, the growth of legal sales is limited by extensive piracy in the sector. In Russia the share of illegal downloads of books is as much as 90 percent. According to the federal press and mass communications agency Rospechat, sales lost to piracy add up to several billion rubles per year. In comparison, the volume of illegal e-book downloads in Germany is 60 percent. In the UK, 29 percent of those who use e-book readers download pirated texts according to Entertainment Media Research, while according to an American Assembly Poll, in the U.S. this share is 46 percent.

For many, downloading books legally is inconvenient as well as expensive. According to Rospechat, the pirated book market in Russia has more than 100,000 titles on offer while only 60,000 titles are available legally. Additionally, the electronic book market in Russia is dominated by two main companies: LitRes (54 percent) and Aimobilko (20 percent). In a recent interview with, Mikhail Kotomin, editor-in-chief of independent Moscow publishing house Ad Marginem said that success in legal sales of e-books in Russia can be achieved only if the leader in online print-book sales ( joins forces with the suppliers of electronic books: “Very soon we should see the appearance of a system like where electronic books are sold right on the site and not separately from print books. E-books would be presented on this site not by the authors but by their publishers. Then even small independent publishers like Ad Marginem would have direct access to the market and could bypass monopolized distribution.”

In a poll conducted by the Levada Center, 79 percent of respondents said they downloaded only books that are available for free, 18 percent said they paid for licensed versions only when the text they needed was not available for free, and a mere 0.4 percent said they paid regularly for legal content.  

Electronic books do not sell fast enough to make up for the losses from falling print runs. The success of Russia’s two largest commercial publishers, AST and EKSMO, depends on second- and third-rate literature as well as mass-market writers of thrillers and bodice rippers such as Daria Dontsova, Alexandra Marinina, Yulia Shilova and Tatiana Ustinova.  Their combined print runs total between 10 and 20 million copies a year. Even first-rate writers and winners of prestigious literary prizes have to fight for print runs and support from their publishers.

“Writers are being forced to produce with the speed of sprinters. Just look how fast Viktor Pelevin and Zakhar Prilepin are now writing,” Ad Marginem’s Mikhail Kotomin remarked recently. Both writers are now turning out two books a year, whereas in the past they might labor for years over a single volume.

Books by popular science-fiction and fantasy author Sergei Lukyanenko are sold in both print and electronic versions. Lukyanenko can compare receipts from the various e-book sellers based on the results for his latest bestseller, “New Watch.” “Using four payment systems (, IMKHONET, Amazon and PayPal), I received (in the form of book payments and voluntary contributions) the very nice sum of $10,000. However, the first printing of “New Watch” was 120,000 copies. Therefore, the writer whose book comes out in an edition not of 120,000, but 12,000 will receive only $1,000 for a year’s worth of work,” Lukyanenko reported recently in his blog. At the same time, a print run of 12,000 copies in Russia today is considered very good. “In order to receive a worthy sum for one’s electronic books, the author must be wildly popular. If he’s wildly popular, he will earn so much on the sale of his print books that receipts from the electronic versions won’t matter that much,” said Lukyanenko.

Print book publishers see the only way out this crisis is to develop the legal market for electronic books. To do this the number of quality digital publications must be increased and their prices must be lowered. Additionally, the procedure for buying e-texts must be made clearer and more convenient. Fighting piracy and the violation of copyright is very difficult since most pirate sites are registered abroad and are therefore outside Russia’s jurisdiction.

More here.

The Aral Sea Is Dying

The Aral Sea Is Dying: The Aral Sea is an endorheic saline lake in Central Asia located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Since the 1960s its level and its amount of water are promptly decreasing due to drawing of water from main feeding rivers – the … Read more...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Pushkin, a consoling angel guards Russian hearts

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) is revered by Russians as their national bard and greatest literary genius.  In critic Apollon Grigoriev’s famous phrase, “Pushkin is our all.” To Gogol, “Pushkin is an extraordinary phenomenon, perhaps the only true expression of the essential Russian spirit”; to Dostoyevsky, Pushkin was “the height of artistic perfection.”   Pushkin is the “Prophet” of Russian literature; his phrases permeate the Russian language as Shakespeare’s do English. Yet,  even though Pushkin’s works “represent the absolute pinnacle of brilliance in all Russian literary art” and though Russians revere Pushkin much as English-speakers do Shakespeare or German-speakers Goethe, Pushkin remains relatively unappreciated in the West, at least in comparison with his literary heirs.

The primary barrier to enjoyment of Pushkin in the West has been the absence of proper verse translations.  Pushkin’s majestic lightness is not easily conveyed. Too often Pushkin’s poems, so easy and magnificent in the original, come out even in good English translations with an incongruously comic effect derived from their being forced into verse by translators who are scholars first and foremost, and poets—if at all— a long way second.  Even the most felicitous results can sound at best like Cole Porter or W.S. Gilbert — but nothing remotely like Pushkin in Russia.  Many scholars, intimidated above all by Nabokov, have given up, and chosen to translate Pushkin with bald, prosaic literality.  

Nabokov introduced his rendering of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin by saying: “to my ideal of literalism I sacrificed everything (elegance, euphony, clarity, good taste, modern usage, and even grammar)…” Alas, an entirely literal approach to translating Pushkin yields a lifeless specimen—neatly pinned, perhaps, to a label in a glass case by the master lepidopterist— but with none of the ineffable grace and beauty of a butterfly in flight. 
To grasp Pushkin one must hear his musicality.  His genius in its sublimity is properly compared to Mozart’s: miraculous, prodigious feats of creativity, wrought with seemingly effortless grace, evocative power, warmth, wit, passion, sheer musicality, inventive rhythmic swing, and playfulness — and all imbued with a certain divine purity, a wisdom born of innocence, a childlike, direct, sweet, natural, vigorous, limpid clarity — often, alas, all the more mysteriously difficult to translate for its seeming simplicity.  Can you imagine trying to describe Mozart only in words?

If only everyone so felt the power
Of harmony! But no! For then indeed
The world could not exist. No one would think
To bother for the lowly needs of living;
We’d all just lose ourselves in free creation.
So we’re but few, we chosen happy idlers,
Who, of mere use neglectful and disdainful,
Are high priests of the One, the Beautiful.

These words, from Mozart’s last speech in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri, the forerunner to Shaffer’s Amadeus, speak of the lonely relationship between a creative genius and the world around him. Pushkin insisted on the sacred independence of the artist: “art’s purpose is not to produce profit, but to create beauty.”  Yet beauty is truly useful, for it is truly healing.  The Pythagoreans, it is said, used to cure the sick with poetry, believing in the unique healing virtues of certain verses of the Odyssey and Iliad when read aloud in the proper way. Pushkin was the Russian language’s high priest of the Pythagorean doctrine of the One, the Beautiful. Like Homer, Pushkin derived indescribable power and dramatic effect as much from the sound—as from the sense—of his words, from their lilt, their swing, their magical incantation: their spell.  

More here.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

American Tourist In Russia 1982-1991

American Tourist In Russia 1982-1991: A set of photographs taken by an American tourist travelling along Russia in 1982-1991. “Kosmos” (“Space”) pavillion Trans-Siberian railway, 1985 Baikal, 1985 “Perestroika, full power to the Soviets” Day of peace and labour

Konstantin Paustovsky: Snow

During World War II, a young Moscovite woman named Tatyana Petrovna and her daughter, Varvara, are evacuated to a small town and settled in the home of an old man named Potapov. A month after Tatyana's arrival, Potapov dies.

At first, Tatyana does not like the provincal town, but eventually she comes to like it, especially when it is covered in snow. She gets used to living in a stranger's home with a stranger's things. Potapov has a son who is currently serving in the Black Sea fleet. Tatyana looks at the son's photograph and feels that she met him somewhere before, long ago, before her unsuccessful marriage, but she can't remember where.

Letters start arriving for Potapov, all written by the same hand. Tatyana stacks them up on old Potapov's desk. One night, when it is snowing, Tatyana can't sleep. Out of curiousity, she opens one of the letters. It is from Potapov's son, Nikolai, who reports that he is recuperating in a hospital after receiving a minor wound. He hopes that after he is discharged from the hospital he will get leave to come and visit the old man. The son visualizes his return: It is snowing, but the path to the old arbor has been cleared; the old piano has finally been tuned up, and sitting on it is the same piece of music as always, the overture to "The Queen of Spades" by Tchikovsky; the twisted candles are in the candleholders. He also wonders if the bell over the door is working.

Tatyana realizes that any day now this son could return. It would be hard for him to discover strange people living in his home and things not the way he expects. The next morning, Tatyana has Varvara clear the path to the arbor. Tatyana repairs the bell over the door and hires someone to tune up the piano. She finds the twisted candles and candleholders and sets them out. Varvara asks why she is touching other people's things and wants to know why Tatyana can do it when Varvara is forbidden to do so. Tatyana says it is because she is an adult.

Nikolai, having been released from the hospital, arrives at the train station, hoping to visit his father. He can stay for less than 24 hours. He is saddened when the train station managers informs him of his father's death. Nikolai wanders around, but does not intend to visit his old home. He only goes to visit the old arbor, where the path is in fact cleared. He stands in the snow, thoughtfully, when a young woman (Tatyana) taps him on the shoulder and invites him in the house. 

In the house, the bell works, the candle, the piano are there--everything as he had imagined. Nikolai cleans up. They have tea. Tatyana says it seems she remembers him from somewhere.

They arrange the sofa for Nikolai to sleep on it. But he doesn't sleep, wanting to savor every minute in his old home.

Early the next morning, Tatyana accompanies Nikolai to the train station. Before he boards the train to leave, she tells him to write. After all, she says, they're practically relatives now.

A few days later, Tatyana receives a letter from Nikolai. He says he remembers where they met before. It was in 1927 in the Crimea. Nikolai was walking in a park. A girl was sitting on a bench with a book. She gets up and walks past him. He stands and gazes after her, feeling that this was the woman who would change his life and bring him great happiness. He felt she was sent to him by fate, but he did not follow her at that time. And fate again has sent this woman--Tatyana--to him. And if she needs him, Nikolai is ready to pledge his life to her. He found his open letter on his father's desk and thanks Tatyana for all she did.

Tatyana puts down the letter and thinks to herself: I have never in my life been in the Crimea. But does that really matter?

From Sovlit.

Monday, 4 June 2012

At the Tajik Bazaar

At the Tajik Bazaar: Every week not far from Pejikent, Tajikistan, they arrange a big bazaar, let’s see what it looks like. General view of the bazaar Part of the bazaar where animals are sold Profit of the rice seller Public catering via zamkosmopolit

Alexander Terekhov Wins National Bestseller Award

Russian writer Alexander Terekhov has become the winner of the National Bestseller Award 2012. 
The writer has been awarded the prize of 250 thousand rubles for his novel "Germans" narrating about the life of Moscow officials.
Four of six jury members voted for the novel "Germans". Other two chose "The Living One" by Anna Starobinets and "Francoisa, or the Way to Glacier" by Sergei Nosov.
The annual award National Bestseller was first time handed over in 2001. The winner of National Bestseller 2011 was Dmitrii Bykov with his novel "Ostromov, or the Student of the Magician".


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Rosamund Bartlett on Russian Short Stories

What first got you interested in Russian literature?
I was lucky enough to learn Russian at school, with encouragement from my father, who visited the Soviet Union in 1957, and my grandfather, who had joined the Communist Party while a student at Cambridge. He became disillusioned when he visited Moscow in the early 1930s and was told there were no telephones in England, but retained his interest in Russian culture. So I began reading Turgenev and Chekhov in the original when I was 16 years old. I found it all dreadfully difficult to begin with, but then became inspired when I spent time in Leningrad as an undergraduate in the early 1980s. It is hard not to be swept up by the passion and serious engagement of Russian writers, and it was exhilarating to discover that they were revered in the Soviet Union as national heroes, as they had been in the despotic days of the Tsarist regime. [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn was not exaggerating when he referred to Russian literature as the country’s second government. It frequently fell to writers to be bearers of the truth.
Your five book choices focus on short stories. How would you define them as a genre, as opposed to the big Russian novels like War and Peace?
It’s true that we think of novels before short stories when considering the Russian literary tradition, but all the great novelists wrote peerless short stories as well. And considering their profound influence on Russian novels and also operas, those short stories are sometimes unjustly overlooked. Although we do not expect to find in them profound discussions of the meaning of existence, Chekhov’s body of work certainly bears comparison. He rebelled by only writing short prose, and it is typical of his subversive style that his stories are so deceptively simple – he challenged convention by posing questions rather than giving answers. And if Chekhov was able to tear up and rewrite the rulebook for writing a short story, it is a credit to all the earlier Russian writers whose short stories inspired him.
The short story form is certainly a lot easier to assimilate – many of the great Russian short stories are real page-turners, and fun to read. They can provide an ideal introduction to Russian literature for anyone intimidated by the big novels, and tend to cover a far wider social and geographical spectrum, so are just as valuable as sources of insight into the Russian mentality, past and present. My selection of these five individual works has been based on artistic merit. But I also want to convey something of the stylistic range and thematic diversity of the Russian short story. Inevitably, that means making some invidious choices and leaving out superlative stories by writers such as Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn.
The first short story you recommend is The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin, in the Oxford World’s Classics collection.
Whatever one’s criteria, it is impossible to leave out The Queen of Spades. It’s a story about gambling, and the first undisputed masterpiece in the genre by the writer seen in his homeland as the “Russian Shakespeare”. Pushkin was a protean genius who moulded the cumbersome Russian of the 18th century into the supple and beautiful literary language used today. Although he was primarily a lyric poet, he started moving towards prose fiction at the end of his short life, as you can see in Eugene Onegin, Russia’s first great novel, written in verse.
Apart from being a gripping read, The Queen of Spades is the quintessential St Petersburg tale and an astonishingly modern work. Its author was far more hotheaded than the superbly cool, detached style of the story’s narration suggests. He was sent into exile for his rebellious ideas, and then had to endure submitting his manuscripts to Nicholas I for his personal approval. Pushkin was a gambler himself, of course, and even gambled away his own poetry on occasion. And he went out of his way to fight duels. He was killed in a duel four years after completing The Queen of Spades, at the age of 38.
More here.

The Letter Killers Club: you are what you write - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Those who doubt that literary experimentation and a good, engaging story can exist in the same space should have a look at the work of the Soviet author Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Krzhizhanovsky, who wrote mostly from the 1920s to the 1940s, saw almost all the fruits of his fantastic imagination censored by the Soviet government. His strange fables of Soviet life were much too original for socialist realism and his lonely, vaguely disaffected intellectuals were certainly not the kind of citizen-artist the Soviet state wanted to exhibit. It was only in the 1980s that he become known in Russian, three decades after his death, and his English debut came even later, with the 2009 story collection Memories of the Future.

For all Krzhizhanovsky’s avant-garde bona fides, few authors speak more honestly about the power great literature can exert on a reader and on its creator. 

The writing that has reached English thus far is pervaded by bookworms and their customs, these trappings of bibliophilia launching metaphysical investigations into authors’ relationships to their work, as well as the moral and emotional questions tied up in the act of creation.
Someone Else’s Theme, from Memories of the Future, makes a good example: Krzhizhanovsky tells the story of a writer who gradually becomes lost in another author’s fiction, concluding “in literature, however, it has yet to be established on what page the ‘I’ that has passed from author to character becomes the personal property of the latter”. The import of the story is to unravel how an author’s creations become free, and how these ideas then find new homes in a reader’s identity. Here, as usual, the mode of transmission for ideas is books.
The notion of how authors dissolve into their creations forms the backbone of the latest of Krzhizhanovsky’s books to be translated, The Letter Killers Club, another successful synthesis of his passions for experimental narratives and traditional literary pleasures. It begins with the narrator visiting the house of a successful Russian author, who tells him his parable-like story of how he achieved success only after emptying his bookshelves, in effect freeing himself from the influence of others.
But success rings hollow. “Writers, in essence, are professional word tamers,” he declares. “I knew that I was turning into a professional killer of conceptions.”
As his fame broadens he once again fills his shelves, but the oppressive weight of all these books surrounding him suffocates his inspiration. At length, books lose all their pleasure: “I felt that both I and my literature had been trampled and made meaningless.”
His response is to flee from literary culture at large by refusing written literature for oral. He fills a room with empty bookshelves and invites in only authors who will work without paper and pen. Thus each Saturday Zez and his fellow pseudonymous “conception-killers” gather to tell their unwritten stories to one another, following their themes wherever they will take them.
From this outstanding opening fable – easily the book’s strongest stretch – The Letter Killers Club proceeds to the seven stories these men tell one another over the course of five Saturdays. The tellings are interspersed with the combative interjections of the letter killers, lending the book a fragmented, somewhat experimental feel. This fragmentation extends to the stories; the first, for instance, involves a deconstruction of Hamlet in which Guildenstern is split into two characters – Guilden and Stern – who then compete for the role of Hamlet, even visiting an asylum-like shadow world housing the shades of actors who have formerly interpreted the role.
Krzhizhanovsky’s range here is impressive. While the metafictional Hamlet exudes whiffs of the structuralist ideas that would not become widespread for decades, other stories here include a carnivalesque medieval tale about three men searching for the proper use of one’s mouth (to eat, to speak, or to kiss?) and a dystopian tale about government mind control via bacteria and gigantic radio towers. Each of these stories is never less than engaging and, even as they range into the esoteric, Krzhizhanovsky never loses sight of pathos. The author’s own phrase for his literature, “experimental realism”, is apt.
More here.