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The Village Life

James Meek: Pushkin​ in English

6 June 2019
Novels, Tales, Journeys 
by Aleksandr Pushkin, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Penguin, 512 pp., £9.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 29037 8
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... even be books. All you can do is play billiards, practise with your pistol, go for long walks, listen to the old housekeeper’s anecdotes and folk tales, and write. Such retreats were important in AleksandrPushkin’s compressed life (he was born in 1799 and fatally wounded in a duel in 1837). He wrote in these houses, and wrote about them. He wrote about love, and war, and history, and banditry, but ...

Bobbery

James Wood: Pushkin’s Leave-Taking

20 February 2003
PushkinA Biography 
by T.J. Binyon.
HarperCollins, 731 pp., £30, September 2002, 0 00 215084 0
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... It is in some ways unfortunate that Tchaikovsky set Eugene Onegin to music, not Rossini, the composer of deep shallows. Pushkin, according to T.J. Binyon’s remarkable biography, became ‘addicted’ to Rossini while living in Odessa, where an Italian opera company was visiting, and though Binyon makes nothing of it, it ...

The Unlucky Skeleton

Greg Afinogenov: Russian Magic Tales

12 September 2013
Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin​ to Platonov 
edited by Robert Chandler.
Penguin, 466 pp., £9.99, December 2012, 978 0 14 144223 5
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Red Spectres: Russian 20th-Century Gothic-Fantastic Tales 
translated by Muireann Maguire.
Angel Classics, 223 pp., £12.95, November 2012, 978 0 946162 80 2
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Stalin’s Ghosts: Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature 
by Muireann Maguire.
Peter Lang, 342 pp., £48.53, November 2012, 978 3 0343 0787 1
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... between readability and completeness, Chandler has tried to represent nearly all of the major figures involved with the gathering of Russian folktales in the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with Aleksandr Afanasyev, the one-man Russian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm, whose first collection was published in eight volumes between 1855 and 1867. Chandler has also included literary interpreters of the ...
7 August 1980
The Life of Aleksandr​ Blok: Vol. 1: ‘The Distant Thunder 1880-1908’ 
by Avril Pyman.
Oxford, 359 pp., £12.50, January 1979, 0 19 211714 9
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... The appearance of the second volume of Avril Pyman’s life of Aleksandr Blok to join the first, published last year, brings her enterprise, the fruit of some twenty years’ work on the poet, to a triumphant conclusion. Blok’s life is well-documented, and the period is ...

Art Is a Cupboard!

Tony Wood: Daniil Kharms

8 May 2008
Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms 
edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich.
Overlook Duckworth, 287 pp., £20, October 2007, 978 1 58567 743 6
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... nature of the world. Its leading exponent, Velimir Khlebnikov, had died in 1922, but Kharms joined the group that had formed around Khlebnikov’s self-professed heir, the now largely forgotten poet Aleksandr Tufanov. Through these connections, Kharms met a number of other poets and writers, with whom he founded an experimental theatre group in 1927; this in turn was the basis for a new literary movement ...
24 April 1997
The Foundation Pit 
by Andrei Platonov, translated by Robert Chandler and Geoffrey Smith.
Harvill, 168 pp., £14.99, May 1996, 1 86046 049 6
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... continuity between his earlier writing and the tales he wrote when he was no longer able to publish original work. Earlier writers had also reworked folk tales: Gogol retold Ukrainian folk tales, Pushkin turned Russian ones into verse. From 1855 to 1864 the ethnographer Aleksandr Afanasiev published Russian folk tales in serial form; and with titles like ‘The Dead Body’ and ‘The Peasant and the ...

I’m with the Imaginists

Tony Wood: The memoirs of an early Soviet poet

7 March 2002
A Novel without Lies 
by Anatoly Mariengof, translated by José Alaniz.
Glas, 192 pp., £8.99, August 2001, 1 56663 302 8
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... the streets of Moscow with walking sticks and in top hats; they staged prank after prank (in 1921 they renamed several main thoroughfares after themselves and hung a sign from the neck of a statue of Pushkin reading ‘I’m with the Imaginists’); they ran a bookshop and hounded out customers attempting to buy work by their rivals, while happily promoting their own books, of which they produced more ...

Witchiness

Marina Warner: Baba Yaga

27 August 2009
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... which has its own stories and figures – Baba Yaga herself, the Firebird, Koshchey the Deathless (Roman Jakobson estimated that a third of Russian fairy tales were unknown outside the country). Pushkin, Leskov, Platonov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinksy, Kandinsky and Chagall drew inspiration from the oral literature polite society had hitherto left in the fields or the kitchen. They were influenced not ...

Big Man Walking

Neal Ascherson: Gorbachev’s Dispensation

14 December 2017
Gorbachev: His Life and Times 
by William Taubman.
Simon and Schuster, 880 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 4711 4796 8
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... out of fight. That’s how you must live.’ Mikhail Sergeyevich went to school at 14, a clever boy who soon showed a talent for acting and a bossy taste for leadership. He discovered books and let Pushkin, Belinsky, Gogol and above all Lermontov blow his adolescent mind, while winning approval in the Komsomol youth movement. A girlfriend remembered that ‘he was too energetic, too serious, so ...

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