Volkov is a stern critic and a smart observer of the Russian scene, and this book, a fine complement to Orlando Figes’s...

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THE MAGICAL CHORUS

A HISTORY OF RUSSIAN CULTURE IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY FROM TOLSTOY TO SOLZHENITSYN

Wide-ranging study of the arts in Russia during the Communist era, bracketed by a decade of relative freedom on either end.

Expat radio journalist Volkov (Shostakovich and Stalin, 2004, etc.) opens his fluent, swiftly moving narrative with Leo Tolstoy, who, though strongly identified with the preceding century, “dominated both the cultural and the political life of the early twentieth century also.” Tolstoy was an especially strong influence on Maxim Gorky, valued by Lenin as a writer and propagandist and enshrined as the author of canonical retorts to anticommunist dissidents, but murdered—allegedly—by Stalin’s agents all the same. One of the greatest surprises here, for readers reared on Solzhenitsyn’s accounts of the Gulag, is that Stalin could be clement and merciful, even argued with: Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokov, for instance, replied to a withering query from the Boss about his vodka consumption with the remark, “A life like this, Comrade Stalin, will drive you to drink.” Volkov defends Sholokov against the charges that his novel The Quiet Don was plagiarized, noting that Sholokov threatened to denounce the Soviet regime if his writing was in any way hindered: “You have to be certain of your own genius to write like this to Stalin; it’s unlikely that an ordinary plagiarist would be so bold,” writes Volkov. Others, such as the eccentric writer Andrei Platonov and the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, did not fare so well, and Stalin kept Russia’s prisons and graveyards well stocked with intellectuals. Post-Stalin cultural figures, such as the poet Joseph Brodsky and pop singer Vladimir Vysotsky, had no end of trouble with the regime but at least were not killed. The KGB, Volkov notes, even decided to permit rock concerts in the 1970s, reasoning that otherwise the youth movement would be driven underground and keep on growing all the same.

Volkov is a stern critic and a smart observer of the Russian scene, and this book, a fine complement to Orlando Figes’s Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002), is essential for anyone following modern political and cultural events there.

Pub Date: March 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4272-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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