Of much interest to Russia hands, as well as admirers of Tolstaya’s fiction.

PUSHKIN’S CHILDREN

WRITINGS ON RUSSIA AND RUSSIANS

Critical pieces (most for the New York Review of Books) that add up to a highly opinionated, irony-laced view of life and art in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia.

Born in 1951, fiction-writer Tolstaya (Sleepwalker in a Fog, 1992, etc.) bears a distinguished pedigree: her grandfather was the Stalin-era novelist Alexei Tolstoy, while another forebear was the Tolstoy of War and Peace fame. This exalted lineage afforded her and her family a degree of protection from the irrationalities, often murderous, of Soviet politics, about which she has much to say in these pages. Reviewing Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, for instance, she remarks that Lenin hated the intelligentsia more than any other class, “and they were the first to be slaughtered,” precisely, she suggests, because they had a conscience and “were not indifferent to issues of social good”; strange it is, then, that so many intellectuals should esteem Lenin to this day. Assessing Gail Sheehy’s wide-eyed biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, she wryly notes that it does no good to wonder why Gorbachev should have told his people that he was a dedicated Communist while telling Margaret Thatcher that he was no longer one of the faithful, for such duplicity is of a piece with the Soviet pattern of rule, and no Russian would bat an eye on hearing of it. (Of Sheehy, she writes, perhaps unkindly, “There is not a trace of critical attitude toward her material.”) Writing of Boris Yeltsin’s time as president of Russia, during which the Western press was given to tongue-clucking over Yeltsin’s drinking and other moral failures, she reckons that it’s a good thing that “scandals of the Gary Hart–like variety leave us indifferent,” for had Yeltsin not thwarted the coup attempt of 1991, “Gorbachev would be dead, the cold war would be revived, Eastern Europe would be stained with blood, and Russian tanks would be in Berlin.” (And in any event, she adds, “a real Russian is always thinking about vodka.”) And so on, in acidic and always intelligent prose.

Of much interest to Russia hands, as well as admirers of Tolstaya’s fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-12500-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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