Showing posts from September, 2015

Chekhov’s censored early work finally published

The Prank is the collection of stories that Anton Chekhov hoped would kick-start his career as a writer. Censored in 1882, now, 133 years later, the book he intended has finally been published – in English - with the subtitle “The Best of Young Chekhov”. The collection has never appeared before, even in Russian, although many of the stories in it are well known, and only two of them are new to translation.

This selection of playful tales sheds new light on the young writer, a confident foretaste of recurring themes: misogyny, pretension and lack of compassion. Chekhov appears as a chameleonic jester: here in the guise of a Spanish translator and there as a scientific journalist; a malapropistic, elderly landowner, writing to his educated neighbor, or a cantankerous mother complaining about marriage. By the end of the book, his romantic pastiche swallows its own tail in an ecstasy of meta-fictional, pre-modernist surrealism.

In the 1880s Chekhov was in his twenties and training to be a d…

Viktor Astafiev - Biography

Viktor Petrovich Astafiev is one of the best representatives of Russian literature of the second half of the 20th century. Astafiev's colleague, Nobel Prize-winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsin, called him an “adamant truth-lover, one of the first to react to the moral depravity of our life.” Astafiev's life and work is an example of selfless service to people and truth. Every Russian and every foreigner, if they are really concerned with the problems on the Russian national agenda, will find Astafiev’s books most helpful. To many he was more than a talented writer – he was a man in whom they had infinite faith. A war veteran, Astafiev is renowned for his ruthlessly truthful stories about the World War II.

The land where Astafiev lived, East Siberia, is measured not by the hundreds but by the thousands of kilometers. A native Siberian, for a larger part of the year Astafiev lived in the settlement of Ovsyanka on the Yenisey River, where several generations of his ancestors once worked…

Vladimir Vysotsky: A song about a friend

If your friend just became a man,
Not a friend, not a foe, - just so,
If you cannot conclude from the start,
Just what lies in his heart, -
To the peaks take this man -- don’t fret!
Do not leave him alone, on his own,
Let him share the same view with you-- 
Then you’ll know if he’s true.

If the guy on the peak got weak,
If he lost all his care -- got scared,
Just one step on the ice - he flies,
One missed step - and he cries, —
Then the one you held close is false,
Do not bother to yell-- expel, --
We can’t take such aboard, and in short,
We don’t sing of his sort.

If the guy didn’t whine or pine,
He was dull and upset, but went,
When you slipped from the cliff, he heaved,
Holding you in his grip;
If he walked right along, seemed strong,
On the top stood like he belonged, -- 
Then, whenever the outlook seems grim,
You can count on him!


Translation by Andrey Kneller

Stalin's Man In London

It may seem odd in retrospect, but most historians eagerly anticipated the publication of The Hitler Diaries. Had they been genuine, they would have been revealing. Europe’s “Civil War” of the 1930s and 1940s was vast in scope. It was executed more by machines than men. And its immediate effects were frequently unfathomable. Yet the specific dynamics of conflict — what actually happened, where and when — were often determined by an astonishingly small number of individuals. Those men were only too willing to put their thoughts on these matters to paper. Their memoirs were invariably self-serving. De Gaulle was magnificent in this respect, Eisenhower merely tedious, Speer duplicitous.

However, the contemporaneous diaries of protagonists, especially those composed without obvious intention of publication, have proved to be of quite different value. These often displayed a complexity of motive, even a confusion of purpose (let alone effect), that have served serious study well. No one b…

Dmitry Bykov - Interview

RBTH: This is your second year as a visiting lecturer at Princeton University. Among other things, your lectures explore how the image of the U.S. changed in Russian and Soviet literature. Could you please tell us briefly what it was like in the 19th and 20th centuries, and what image of America is dominant in contemporary writing?
Dmitry Bykov: Those were one-off lectures that I read at my students' request. And I once delivered this lecture at my favorite Brooklyn Public Library, whose assistance in digging out some rare sources was invaluable.
In modern literature, the prevalent image of the U.S. derives from Anatoly Ivanov's novel The Eternal Call (written in 1971-76). You won't believe it but everything that we are being fed today about a Dulles Plan to destroy Russian spirituality in fact comes from the monologue of émigré Lakhnovsky, a former White Guard officer. [Editor’s note: the Dulles plan refers to a conspiracy theory in which the CIA is attempting to undermine …