Showing posts from November, 2015

Koba (1990)

Mini-Series: Stalin (1990)
→ Revolutionary
→ Despot 
→ Generalissimo
Narrator: Ian Holm
Language: English & Russian
Subtitles: English

Osip Mandelstam: The Admiralty

In the Northern capital, dusty populus,Sighing, mantles the time’s transparency,
And, through green dark, a frigate or an acropolis,
Brother to water and sky, glows distantly. A boat of air, its mast like a touch-me-not –
To Peter’s progeny, this rule declares
Beauty was never the whim of a demi-god,
But a simple carpenter’s calculating stares. Governed by four kind elements of creation,
We, as free people, order the fifth a place:
What is this ark of ours but the abnegation
In cleanly crafted lines of the tyrant, space? Cranky medusas consolidate a position,
Anchors’ abandoned ploughs are adrift in rust,
But look, the three dimensions burst from their prison
And all the world’s seas are open to us at last. Translated by Yuri Drobyshev and Carol Rumens

Maya Plisetskaya: A life in art

Even during the era of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, it seemed impossible that the mercurial talent of the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya could be contained by any walls. Now, long after the end of the Soviet Union, her life and work continues to unite and inspire admirers of high art in countries and continents around the world. 

An example to emulate for dancers starring in Swan Lake or Don Quixote, she is recognized by the whole world as the paragon of Russian ballet. It was thanks to her that the likes of Maurice Béjart and Roland Petit were able to bring their ballets to Russia. 

But even if she was half a century ahead of her time in ballet, Plisetskaya was not simply a ballerina – she was a woman of oustanding personality, a star that drew the most remarkable people of her time into her orbit. The stage – even one as great and grand as the Bolshoi – was simply not enough for her. 

Plisetskaya's artistic skill manifested itself very early in her life. As she hers…

The Same Old Story by Ivan Goncharov

That’s a good title for a first novel, you might say, combining world-weary ennui with a touch of chutzpah; but actually it’s the translator’s own – Ivan Goncharov’s book is more often rendered into English as A Common Story. But the new title makes sense, with the phrase “the same old story” being uttered early on by Uncle Pyotr, one of literature’s more remarkable characters.

It isn’t translated into English very often, though. Indeed, Goncharov refused to have his novels translated in his lifetime. If he is known in the UK it is as the author of the 1859 novel Oblomov, the justly celebrated story of a Russian patriarch who simply can’t be bothered to get out of bed. Its success has eclipsed his other works, which is a pity, and also rather mystifying as he only wrote three novels, all of which, incidentally, begin in Russian with the syllable “ob”.

The Same Old Story begins in the middle of the 19th century in the provincial estate of 20-year-old Alexander Aduev, a spoiled only son b…

The centuries surround me with fire - Osip Mandelstam, Documentary, 1976.


New secrets of Malevich's ‘Black Square’ revealed

Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery has published the results of the latest research carried out on Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich’s revolutionary avant-garde painting Black Square. It turns out that a color image is hidden beneath the painting – and not one, but two. The discovery was made just over a month ago. "It was known that there was some underlying image beneath the image of Black Square," said Yekaterina Voronina, a researcher in the Tretyakov Gallery's department of scientific expertise. "We found that there was not one such image, but two. And we proved that the original image is a Cubo-Futuristic composition, and the one lying beneath Black Square, the color of which is visible in the craquelure, is a proto-Suprematist composition." In the X-rays, the outlines of Malevich's other painting are clearly visible onBlack Square. Under the microscope, it can be clearly seen that another layer of paint shines through the craquelure, i.e. through the cracks i…

Vasili Grossman: A report from Stalingrad, 1942

During the Great Patriotic War, Vasili Grossman was a correspondent for the army newspaperKrasnaya Zvezda. As such, he was an eye-witness to and participant in the historic Battle of Stalingrad. Years later, in his novels For A Just Cause and Life and Fate, Grossman would present a somewhat controversial view of that battle. But in 1942, his views were less ambiguous, celebrating the unquestionable courage of Soviet troops and highlighting the horrors of this hideous war.

In the Main Line of Attack describes life and death in a division of Siberian troops who had to bear the brunt of the most frenzied period of Nazi attacks on Stalingrad, withstanding 80 straight hours of bombardment, and more.

In the night, Colonel Gurtiev's Siberian troops took up defensive positions. A factory always looks rather stark and gloomy, but one could surely find no scene in the world more gloomy than the one these men saw on that October morning in 1942: the dark mass of the workshops, the wet, gleamin…

Parade on Red Square on November, 7th, 1941


St. Petersburg


900 days The Myth & Reality of the Leningrad blockade (Full doc + Eng subs)


Fyodor Dostoyevsky “My Paradox” (Extract)

Again a tussle with Europe (oh, it’s not a war yet: they say that we – Russia, that is – are still a long way from war). Again the endless Eastern Question is in the news; and again in Europe they are looking mistrustfully at Russia. . . . Yet why we should go running to seek Europe’s trust? Did Europe ever trust the Russians? Can she ever trust us and stop seeing us as her enemy? Oh, of course this view will change someday; someday Europe will better be able to make us out and realize what we are like; and it is certainly worth discussing this someday; but meanwhile a somewhat irrelevant question or side issue has occured to me and I have recently been busy to solve it. No one may agree with me, yet I think that I am right – in part, maybe, but right.

I said that Europe doesn’t like Russians. No one, I think, will dispute the fact that they don’t like us. They accuse us, among other things, of being terrible liberals: we Russians, almost to a man, are seen as not only liberals but rev…

Nikolai Gogol: The Viy

(The “Viy” is a monstrous creation of popular fancy. It is the name which the inhabitants of Little Russia give to the king of the gnomes, whose eyelashes reach to the ground. The following story is a specimen of such folk-lore. I have made no alterations, but reproduce it in the same simple form in which I heard it. — Author’s Note.) I As soon as the clear seminary bell began sounding in Kieff in the morning, the pupils would come flocking from all parts of the town. The students of grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology hastened with their books under their arms over the streets. The “grammarians” were still mere boys. On the way they pushed against each other and quarrelled with shrill voices. Nearly all of them wore torn or dirty clothes, and their pockets were always crammed with all kinds of things — push-bones, pipes made out of pens, remains of confectionery, and sometimes even young sparrows. The latter would sometimes begin to chirp in the midst of deep silence in the scho…

Love and Hate: A Tolstoy Family Tale

One of the most famous sentences in literature is the opening of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy's own marriage seems to have fallen into the second category. He and his wife, Sophia, had 13 children together. She was an invaluable assistant in his work, hand copying his manuscripts. But Sophia, a countess from Russia's aristocracy, was impatient with Tolstoy's ideas about social reform and a simpler life. And he had little sympathy with her interests in music and photography. Leah Bendavid-Val, author of Song Without Words: The Photographs and Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy, says Sophia's family provided Leo Tolstoy with characters for his books. For example, in War and Peace, the heroine Natasha is modeled after Sophia's younger sister, Tanya. The Tolstoys' marriage started off "in a beautiful way," Bendavid-Val tells Deborah Amos. "T…

Battle for Stalingrad, 1942 - a picture from the past


Vasily Zaitsev - Biography

This Hero of the Soviet Union killed more than 300 Nazi soldiers in the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II and taught scores of other snipers.

Vasily Zaitsev was born into a family of peasants in the village of Yelenovsk in the Chelyabinsk Region in the Urals. His grandfather taught him to hunt at a very early age – as a child, Vasily would spend days in the taiga together with his younger brother, tracking wolves, setting traps and sleeping in the snow. He brought home his first trophy at the age of twelve: a wolf that he shot with a single bullet from his first personal weapon, a large single-barreled Berdan rifle, which he was just barely able to carry behind his back at the time. As bullets were scarce, Vasily learnt to pull the trigger just once per animal. This is how he grew up to become a sharpshooter.

In 1937 Vasily was recruited into the Red Army. Despite his small frame, he was sent to serve in the Soviet Navy in the Pacific, near Vladivostok. But when Nazi forces invad…

All Is Permitted, All Over Again - Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”

IN HIS EXUBERANT and terrifying account of a decade-long journey into the dark heart of contemporary Russia’s media-political complex, Peter Pomerantsev relates an incident in which a group of factory workers pledge their support to President Putin on television “via live video-link”: 
But then it turns out the workers don’t actually exist; the whole thing is a piece of playacting organized by local political technologists (because everyone is a political technologist now), the TV spinning off to someplace where there is no reference point back to reality, where puppets talk to holograms when both are convinced they are real, where nothing is true and everything is possible. And the result of all this delirium is a curious sense of weightlessness.Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible was too good a formulation to leave it buried in the text; it had to be the title of Pomerantsev’s book, which hit the shelves in 2014. What words could better capture the distinctly postmodern atmo…

Anatoly Mariengof : A Novel Without Lies

By the fall we were living in the Bakhrushin house. Karp Karpovich Korotkov — a poet little known to readers, but quite popular in literary circles — let us stay at his apartment.
Karp Karpovich was the son of a rich manufacturer, but even before the revolution he had left his family home and devoted himself to the arts.
Soon he had released some thirty books, all distinguished for their unprecedented lack of sales and their Eastern accents on Russian words.
Nonetheless the books disappeared pretty quickly thanks to the inexpressible energy with which Karp Karpovich himself handed them out, along with his autograph!
One joker even promised two pounds of Ukrainian lard to any eccentric who might have a copy of Karp Karpovich's books without a dedicatory inscription.
This was no small gamble. In 1919, not only for the sake of lard, but even for yellow millet, people would feed lice with their bodies for weeks in the icy carriages.
All the same our joker had to eat his own lard himself.

Arseny Tarkovsky: I waited for you yesterday since morning

I waited for you yesterday since morning,
They guessed you wouldn't come,
Do you remember the weather?
Like a holiday! I went out without a coat.

 Today came, and they fixed for us
 A somehow specially dismal day,
 It was very late, and it was raining,
 The drops cascading down the chilly branches.

No word of comfort, tears undried…

Ludmila Petrushevskaya: The Fountain House

There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life. That is, her parents were told that she was dead, but they weren’t allowed to keep her body. (The family had been riding the bus together; the girl was standing up front at the time of the explosion, and her parents were sitting behind her.) The girl was just fifteen, and she was thrown backward by the blast.

While the parents waited for the ambulance, and while the dead were being separated from the wounded, the father held his daughter in his arms, though it was clear by then that she was dead; the doctor at the scene confirmed this. But the body still had to be taken away, so the parents climbed into the ambulance with their daughter and rode with her to the hospital morgue.

She seemed to be alive, as she lay on the stretcher, but she had no pulse, nor was she breathing. Her parents were told to go home, but they wouldn’t; they wanted to wait for the body, though procedures still had to be followed—the autopsy perform…