Showing posts from 2013

The Motherland Calls: Russia's symbol of victory


Open Ending: Russia’s literary scene in 2013

"Telluria," a long-awaited novel from postmodernist Vladimir Sorokin, is among the most talked-about sensations of the year. Sorokin's life as a writer can be divided into two eras. He earned his notoriety in the 1980s, when his conceptual prose was a parody montage of the Soviet regime and its accompanying bourgeois lifestyle. His work was illustrated by flamboyant descriptions of carnal pleasures and perversities. In the late 1990s, he switched from this “Sots Art” style—a humorous juxtaposition of elevated Soviet propaganda coupled with a dose of harsh reality. He began instead to portray the horrors of an alternative, fictional history. What would life have been like, had mother Russia taken a different turn? These visions are elaborate and nightmarish with varying degrees of phantasmagoria. "Telluria" is another dystopia in this same vein. The book comprises 50 short stories united by a shared nightmare: Russia has broken down into numerous small pieces and …

Vrubel: The terrible price of obsession with demons

It is said that Mikhail Vrubel sold his soul to the devil. So, it is no coincidence, people said, that all his problems and tragedies began when he was working on the “Demon Downcast”painting. Vrubel's “Demon” is a symbol of a man who wanted to fly too high, as high as God himself - and was downcast for his presumption. The painting is a classic illustration of theomachy; Vrubel was well aware of that. He said that he wanted "to express sensuality, a passion for beauty and sophistication – all the things people feel compelled to reject because of Christian ideas.” He had indeed expressed all these things - and he was downcast for it. He would work for 17 hours straight on the painting. He barely slept. He became a heavy drinker. He broke up with all his artist friends. A son was born to the Vrubel family when “Demon Downcast” was being painted. He was a good boy – but he had a birth defect, a cleft lip. Vrubel himself started hallucinating. He was put into a mental clinic. Meanwh…

Raisa Gorbachev: the first and only Soviet First Lady

Raisa Gorbachev was the woman who overturned the West's notion of the Soviet leadership. She became one of the symbols of perestroika (1985-1991), which was initiated by her husband. In the mid-1980s when the Soviet Union and the US only began to shed the state of the Cold War, the appearance of the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was instrumental in the warming in the relations between the two super powers. He was radically different from his predecessors, primarily his by his openness and readiness for a dialogue. In addition, his wife Raisa Maksimovna Gorbachev started escorting him on his foreign visits.
Western society was used to the wives of the Soviet leaders always staying in the shadow. And it was something of a shock to see next to the secretary general of the Communist Party's Central Committee an educated, communicative and well dressed woman. It was also unusual for the citizens of the USSR. By the mid-1980s the arms race seriously depleted the economy of the c…

Prince of fools - The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The forms of 19th-century European fictions, including the Russian, have a powerful relation to older Christian stories, from the Bible to Bunyan. The novels meet the old tales with part parody, part dialogue, part rejection and reconstruction. Middlemarch opens with a paradigm of its heroine as a "later-born" St Theresa, "helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul". Dorothea's virtue cannot find a form in her modern world. Unlike Eliot, Dostoevsky was Christian, and increasingly passionate about preserving faith. DH Lawrence, another maker of fictive prophecies and apocalypses, was reading The Idiot in 1915. "I don't like Dostoevsky," he wrote. "He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light professing love, all love." It had become, he shrilled, "a supreme wickedness to set up a Christ worship as Dostoev…

Pulsating crystals - Pavel Filonov

During a recent week in Florence I made about a dozen visits to an exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi. “The Russian avant-garde, Siberia and the East” makes a case for the influence of shamanistic cult objects on Kandinsky, Goncharova and other 20thcentury Russian artists. The reason I went so many times, however, was simply that I wanted, again and again, to look at seven paintings by Pavel Filonov (1883-1941), whom I—and many Russians—consider the most remarkable of all the many great Russian artists of the last century. Many of Filonov’s paintings are huge and extraordinarily detailed. Seen closely, every element of Filonov’s works takes on a life of its own. One square centimetre of canvas could, if enlarged 50 or 100 times, be an entire Paul Klee—or a Miro, or a Kandinsky. Another square centimetre is more roughly textured—like the wrong side of a piece of richly coloured embroidery. Another square centimetre may be relatively empty—not a pattern but a delicate wash of colour. Each…

Maria Yudina - Documentary ( SUBTITLES )

St Petersburg: Palaces Parks and Gardens, Parks and Gardens, Admiralty, Architeculturel ensemples and ensemples of Vasilievsky

Palaces Parks and Gardens

Parks and Gardens -Admiralty

Architeculturel ensemples and ensemples of Vasilievsky

Maya Plisetskaya in The Seagull

Bolshoi Theatre 1980,
Maya Plisetskaya (leading role and choreography)

Nikolai Zabolotsky: The Will

When at the years` decline my life will run its course
And, having dimmed the light, I will again disperse
Into the unseen world of foggy transformations,
When millions of newborn generations
Will fill this world with glimmerings of wonder
And will complete the nature’s full design,
My pity ashes may this waters line,
May I be sheltered in the forest yonder.

I shall not die, my friend. In flowers` exhale,
I shall again my earthly self become.
The centuries old oak in stern and morbid calm,
Within its roots my spirit shall enveil.
Inside its spacious leaves be shelter for my mind,
My growing thought will through its branches flower,
And from the forest dark above you hover,
So you akin my consciousness would find.

Above your head, my great-grandson, I’ll pass,
Across the sky, a bird in slow flight,
I’ll flash in summer storms with pale light,
With summer’s rain I’ll fall and glimmer in the grass.
Nothing more grand than being can there be.
The graveyard’s silent gloom is dull and wasti…

Ivan Turgenyev:"Faust", a story in nine letters

I ARRIVED here three days ago, my dear friend, and, in accordance with my promise, I take up my pen to write to thee. A fine rain has been drizzling down ever since morning; it is impossible to go out; and besides, I want to have a chat with thee. Here I am again, in my old nest, in which I have not been--dreadful to say--for nine whole years. Really, when one comes to think of it, I have become altogether another man. Yes, actually, another man. Dost thou remember in the drawing-room the small, dark mirror of my great-grandmother, with those queer scrolls at the corners? Thou wert always meditating on what it had beheld a hundred years ago. As soon as I arrived, I went to it, and was involuntarily disconcerted. I suddenly perceived how I had aged and changed of late. However, I am not the only one who has grown old. My tiny house, which was in a state of decrepitude long since, hardly holds itself upright now, and has sagged down, and sunk into the ground. My good Vasílievna, the hou…

Celebrating Aitmatov and his examination of collective memory

When I was finishing school in the late 1980s, in the anarchic and utopian times of perestroika, I remember discussing in literature class the parable from Chingiz Aitmatov’s novel “The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years,”and what an impression it made on me.

The parable was about an Asian tribe’s ancient tradition of making their captives into perfect slaves called mankurts. The captives would be left for a few days in the desert without food or water, their heads shaved and wrapped in freshly cut camel skin. As the camel skin dried out, it pressed on the skull, making their hair grow inwards and creating unbearable pain. Most of those subjected to this torture died, but those who survived would lose all memory of their past and all human emotion. They would become the most valuable slaves: perfect, obedient and disposed to perform hard and tedious tasks. As long as they were fed, they never contemplated rebellion. Reading this during perestroika, many of us compared this legend to th…

Nikolai Leskov - Maverick of the Russian masters

‘Here is God’s plenty,” remarked the English poet John Dryden of The Canterbury Tales. A similar comment could apply to the work of the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895), who had much in common with Geoffrey Chaucer. Both writers travelled extensively, and both were candid observers, sharing an interest in ordinary people. Most importantly, they were originals, and whatever about Chaucer being an obvious literary pioneer, living as he did in the late medieval period, Leskov, who is so often referred to as Anton Chekhov’s favourite writer – and he certainly influenced the young Chekhov – and whom Mikhail Bulgakov frequently praised as a master, is different in style and approach from all of the major 19th-century Russian writers. There are several reasons for this, probably the most important being that he looked almost exclusively to an ancient Russia of traditional myths, fables and quasi-religious mysticism and superstition. He made inspired use of characters com…

"Return to Punjrud" by Andrei Volos wins Russian Booker

Andrei Volos has won the Russian Booker "best novel of the year" award for his book "Return to Punjrud". The novel is set in the 15th century. The main character lives four different lives: a doctor, a God’s fool, a pilgrim in Jerusalem and, finally, a hermit. "Return to Punjrud" is about the famous Persian poet Abu Abdollah Jafar ibn Mohammad Rudaki (858-941). Towards the end of his life, he, a blind old man, sets out on a long way to Bukhara, accompanied by a sighted boy. As they walk on, it becomes clear that it’s the poet that guides the boy, revealing the secrets of life to him. The other short-list nominees are "Lavr" by Yevgeny Vodolazkin, "Beta-Samets" by Denis Gutsko, "Harbin Moths" by Andrei Ivanov, "Investigator" by Margarita Khemlin, "In the Foothills of a Boundless World" by Vladimir Shapko.
Read more:…

Desperately Seeking Solzhenitsyn

When Nobel Prizewinning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn died five years ago, I experienced several days of flashbacks to the surrealistic times of Soviet power. I had been a correspondent in Moscow in the 1960s and 1970s and my most vivid memory was encountering the great writer face to face. He wasn’t particularly happy to see me. Solzhenitsyn was tailed and harassed by the KGB for most of his life, and had made a dangerous game of dodging the authorities. Two of his early novels, The First Circle and The Cancer Ward, had been smuggled out of the country by trusted foreign contacts and published abroad to great acclaim. He would later go on to expose the Soviet labor camp system in his classic Gulag Archipelago, a work that reverberates to this day. But he considered any interaction with the free-wheeling Western media to be risky, and he was right. Of course every correspondent in Moscow wanted to be the first to find him after he won the Nobel in 1970. I was a young reporter and I inten…

When John Steinbeck went to Stalingrad

In the fall of 1947, John Steinbeck checked in at the repaired Intourist Hotel in Stalingrad with the great photographer Robert Capa: “We seemed to go on endlessly across the steppe, until at last, over a little rise, we saw Stalingrad below us and the Volga behind it.” The duo was far from their aristocratic room at the elegant Metropole Hotel in Moscow where they had begun their trip. In Stalingrad, “our windows looked out on acres of rubble, broken brick and concrete and pulverized plaster,” Steinbeck wrote, “and in the wreckage the strange dark weeds that always seem to grow in destroyed places.” During their time in Stalingrad, they became intensely fascinated by the resurrection of life among the ruins. The place was still horrifically gutted two years after the war, but it was far from deserted, they found. Stalingrad was a large city, and people had gone back to life and work. “Underneath the rubble there were cellars and holes, and in these holes many people lived. We would watch…

Facing Death With Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy died from pneumonia, aged eighty-two, at the railway station of Astapovo, a remote Russian village, on November 7, 1910. He had left his family home on October 28, in the middle of the night, walking out on his wife of forty-eight years—the long-suffering and increasingly paranoid Sonya. “I am doing what old men of my age usually do: leaving worldly life to spend the last days of my life in solitude and quiet,” he wrote in the uncomfortably chilly letter of explanation he left for her. In fact, there were to be very few of those “last days.” For whatever Tolstoy’s plans for the future had been (and we can now only guess at them), they were soon interrupted when he was taken ill on board a train and forced to get out at Astapovo, where the stationmaster gave him the use of his house. And there was certainly very little solitude or quiet. His death became one of the first international media “events.” It attracted to the little station not only hundreds of his admirers (and s…

Borodin: Between Dissertation and Symphony

Although composer Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) is best known for writing one of the best Russian operas, "Prince Igor," he was also a renowned scientist and chemist. In fact, many Russian composers were not only composers. Mussorgsky was a militarist. Rimsky-Korsakov was a sailor. By education Borodin was a doctor. He graduated from the Medical Academy, and he was a friend of the discoverer of the periodic system of elements, Dmitry Mendeleyev, and other luminaries. The great Russian chemist Nikolay Zinin, who taught Alfred Noble, also taught Borodin. Zinin was terribly annoyed by the fact that Borodin was interested in music. He used to tell him, "Sasha, forget these romances and enjoy a serious matter." However, despite the romances, Borodin worked seriously in science and is created with discovering the so-called Borodin reaction. But he was fatally unlucky: as soon as he started to deal with any problem, immediately it became clear that it was already taken by We…

Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Soviet Dissident and Poet, Dies at 77

Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a Russian dissident and poet who defied Soviet authorities by starting an influential underground publication and protesting the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, died on Friday at her home in Paris. She was 77.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti announced her death but did not give a cause. On Aug. 25, 1968, Ms. Gorbanevskaya and a handful of other dissidents gathered in Red Square, in Moscow, to denounce the Soviets’ sending tanks to Czechoslovakia four days earlier to quell the liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring. The group stood on a spot reserved for executions in prerevolutionary times and held up banners with slogans like “shame to the invaders.” Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s companions were arrested, but she was not, presumably because she had two young sons. She wrote about the trial of her associates for The Chronicle of Current Events, an influential underground publication she had helped to start earlier that year. Produced on mimeographed s…

What Crime and Punishment can teach you that the internet can't

At the age of 28, Fyodor Dostoevsky, sentenced to death for revolutionary activities, stood before a firing squad. The young writer and agitator kissed a cross that was passed around among the prisoners. The Tsar’s soldiers raised their guns. Then a rider rushed into the square and announced a pardon: the condemned men, including Dostoevsky, were to be sent to hard labour in Siberia instead. Very few of us will ever have a terrifying, unreal moment like Dostoevsky’s: convinced he was about to die, then spared at the last minute. When Dostoevsky returned from Siberia and wrote his great novels, his near-death echoed through his work. He felt compelled to imagine killers and their victims in the most graphic, even sickening ways. Being alone with Dostoevsky and his perverse, troubled characters can be an appalling experience. But still we read on, unable to tear ourselves away from a world so miserable and so alien to our hopes. Dostoevsky shows us what subjecting ourselves to a book whos…

Astapovo: Tolstoy's final station

Leo Tolstoy is one of the world's best know and most beloved writers. His novels have brought joy and wisdom to the lives of untold millions. Yet his final years were a time of personal turmoil and family discord. Fleeing what he considered to be an intolerable domestic situation in the fall of 1910, the great writer met death not at his estate of Yasnaya Polyana, but at a distant railway station known as Astapovo, some 250 miles southeast of Moscow in what is now Lipetsk Region. Much has been written about these final days of the writer's life, but little attention has been given to the physical setting in which these momentous events occurred. The nearby village of Astapovo is known to have existed since the mid-17th century. Its name derives from Lake Ostapovo, in turn related to the name "Ostap," pronounced "Astap" in standard Russian. With its small church, Astapovo had little to distinguish it from hundreds of other such villages in south central Russia. …

Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The Concert in the Red Square, Moscow, June 19, 2013

Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Kalman. 
The State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia (Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra).
Constantine Orbelian, conductor. 
Grand Choir "Masters of Choral Singing", conductor: Lev Kontorovich.

All you’ve always wanted to know about Dostoevsky

RBTH: Were Dostoevsky's views on religion unique? Which works best show his religious convictions? Brice Jordan Ludmila Saraskina: Dostoevsky's specific view on religion involves the fact that his faith endured the suffering and hardships of doubt. Most clearly his religious beliefs are expressed in the novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” RBTH: I would like to know about Dostoevsky's attitude to Christianity. Érika Batista L.S.: Dostoevsky was an Orthodox Christian and viewed Christ with great love. RBTH: Was Dostoevsky familiar with Catholicism? A critical attitude appears in his works. Paula Almarat L.S.: When in the forced labor camp, Dostoevsky became acquainted with Polish Catholic convicts. He was offended by their arrogant attitude to the Orthodox prisoners. Later, he wrote many critical things about the Roman Pope Pius IX. RBTH: Did Dostoyevsky read works of Church Fathers and was he influenced by John Chrysostom? Euthimios Nikrer L.S.: Of course he read them, both the Father…