Showing posts from April, 2014

Zakhar Prilepin: a modern Leo Tolstoy

Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin’s work draws on his experience as a police officer. He fights for social change through his writing and political campaigning. 

Zakhar Prilepin has experienced a meteoric rise, both as a literary phenomenon and as a political activist. At 36, he is one of Russia’s most acclaimed authors, and his novel Sin was voted one of the most important books to come out of Russia in the past decade.

Prilepin’s new work, Vosmerka or “Eight”, is the most anticipated Russian book of 2012. Prilepin says the story shows how friendships fall apart for no good reason. A film of the book is already being filmed by the director Alexei Uchitel. It is hard to imagine that 10 years ago Zakhar Prilepin, then Yevgeny Prilepin, veteran of two wars in Chechnya, was a poorly paid officer with the special police unit Omon. His salary of 830 roubles (now about £18) a week could not cover the expenses of his first baby. To help keep food on the table, Prilepin took shifts where he checked…


Tolstoy’s last journey in the eyes of the press - An excerpt from Pavel Basinsky’s Book “Leo Tolstoy: Flight from Paradise”

On the night of October 27, 1910 an unbelievable event took place <…> in Yasnaya Polyana, ancestral estate of the internationally well-known writer and thinker – Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. The eighty-two year old Count secretly fled from his home in an unknown direction with the escort of his personal physician Makovitsky that night. <…> The informational space of that time didn’t strongly differ from the present. News of the scandalous events momentarily spread throughout Russia and across the world. On October 29th, urgent telegrams began to come from Tula to the Petersburg Telegraph Agency, republished in newspapers the next day. “News having surprised everyone was received that L.N. Tolstoy escorted by Dr. Makovitsky unexpectedly fled Yasnaya Polyana and left. Having left, L.N. Tolstoy left a letter, in which he announces that he’s leaving Yasnaya Polyana forever”.
Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines -…

Sergei Dovlatov And The Hearsay Of Memory

“POLITICAL WORK OUGHT TO BE CONCRETE”: this is one of the rousing Soviet mottos recalled in Sergei Dovlatov’s novel, The Zone. Ironically, it is also what is said about good writing, and can one think of a more concrete contemporary writer than Dovlatov? Sentences compacted to aphoristic ingots: “One is born either poor or rich. Money has almost nothing to do with it.” Paradox, sharp wit, and swift one-liners: “Boris sober and Boris drunk are such different people, they’ve never even met.” Or: “What could I say to him? What do you say to a guard who uses after-shave only internally?” Fierce, precise snapshots, illuminated by absurdist flashes: “Cars streamed past us like submarines holding each other’s tails.” Dialogue almost Waugh-like in its tart comedy: “You’ve just forgotten. The rudeness, the lies.”
“If people are rude in Moscow, at least it’s in Russian.”
“That’s the horrible part.” And people, things, clothes, memories, stories—all seized and made instantly vivid: Indistinct memorie…

Anzhelina Polonskaya: The Fish

There’s nothing more powerful than pre-dawn melancholy. It oozes like a dirty light from the east, filters through the shutters, and everything—the trees, the garden, the birds—seems like the survivor of some catastrophe that transforms any beauty into poverty, waste, and irreparable destruction. The evening darkness arises in the east when the west is still pierced by light. Looking to the east you’ll see that it always harbors the taste of death; at least it seems that way to me. Snow is falling—snow is always falling here, a simulacrum of snow in any case, even during the short summer. That is why the abyss, despite all expectations, is not black. So, from the end of May, a person like me begins to count the days backwards—to make some mental notches. The cherry blossoms are falling (another snow rehearsal). The birch leaves have darkened to a deep green: winter is approaching. Have you ever noticed that in central Russia the sky is white for the most part, without any breaks? There…

Vera Yermolaeva - Biography

Painter, graphic artist, illustrator, theatrical designer, teacher. Born at the estate of Petrovskoe in the village of Klyuchi near Saratov (1893) in the family of hereditary nobleman and liberal landowner Mikhail Yermolaev (1847–1911) and Baroness Anna Unkovskaya von Ungern (1854–?). Named after Russian revolutionary Vera Figner (1852–1942), who was protected and employed as a rural doctor by her parents in the nearby village of Vyazmino (1878). Lost the use of her legs following an attack of polio or a horse-riding accident in childhood, leaving her a cripple all her life. Went to Innsbruck for treatment and attended schools in Paris, London and Lausanne (1902–03). 

Returned to Russia (1904) and moved with her family to St Petersburg (1905), where she attended the Princess Alexandra Obolenskaya Grammar School at 8 Baskov Lane (1906–11), graduating with a gold medal (1911). Inherited over a million roubles following the death of her father (1911). Studied at the Mikhail Bernstein Scho…

Alexander Terekhov: The Stone Bridge - Excerpt

Alexander Terekhov’s “The Stone Bridge” (Glagoslav Publications) is a whirling novel that collides present times with the grim epoch of Stalin purges. Based on a true story, the novel reconstructs the Stalinist Russia in perfect detail, using real documents and photos – but “The Stone Bridge” is written in vivid, pulsing language that makes it much more than a historical detective. “The Stone Bridge” will be presented by the author in the Read Russia program at the London Book Fair, April 8-10.

The Great Stone Bridge is recognized as the best location from which to view the Kremlin and study Russian life. The bridge has had the best view since the time of Cornelis de Bruijn, a Dutchman and painter, three hundred years ago; in more recent days, images of and from the bridge figured in the title sequences of the Vremya TV news broadcasts which replaced, for the Soviet people, the evening church service. <…> The Great Stone Bridge was the first stone bridge in the city — and happened …

Mussorgsky and the Mighty Handful

They were a fortifications engineer, a research chemist, a naval officer, a pen-pusher in a government office and a gentleman of leisure. They were also all composers – quite a handful, indeed a “Mighty Handful”, to give them the old-fashioned English version of their collective Russian sobriquet: moguchaya kuchka. They were artists with a mission, but they spent more time debating that mission than realizing it. They were, in the order given above, César Cui, Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Musorgsky and Mily Balakirev, and the story of their triumphs and failures is told by Stephen Walsh with enjoyable panache.

Walsh spent two decades producing the definitive biography of Igor Stravinsky, a two-volume work of immense thoroughness and narrative skill. Now he can have some fun. When he was dealing with Stravinsky, plotting a course through a long and eventful life that is exceedingly well but often conflictingly documented, he had little space for applying his critic…

Leo Tolstoy’s greatest plot of all

Tolstoy is one of the few Russian writers to enjoy phenomenal popularity with Western audiences. But then, he is more than a writer. He is also a philosopher, a founder of a new religion, and a proverbial bearded old mystic who walked barefoot summer and winter. He is the mainstay of numerous jokes. A preacher. A guru. Lenin called him “the mirror of the Russian Revolution.” Tolstoy's entire life is a work of art. It could have constituted a plot at least as intricate as that of his War and Peace. In his younger years he drilled himself in way a future superman would. No indulgence was permitted. He used to hold heavy dictionaries in his outstretched arms, and flogged himself on his bare back. He trained his willpower to become a man comme il faut, a true nobleman. He spoke perfect French, was gallant with the ladies, and enjoyed a game of cards or two – often running up gambling debts in the process. Once, walking along the street with his brother, he spotted a man coming in the o…