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Diary

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Remembering my father, 8 February 2007

... mores because they were so different from home ones: around the same time, this led to a Hate Sheila campaign, which caused me to skip a grade and later arrive at university a callow and undersized 16. My father was better at handling (as well as creating) awkward situations. We both had poor eyesight, which meant that I never greeted people in the street ...

On the Banks of the Tom

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 10 November 1994

Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans in Soviet Russia 
translated and edited by William Edgerton.
Indiana, 308 pp., £25, September 1993, 0 253 31911 0
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... Leo Tolstoy was not only a great writer but also a passionately outspoken public moralist in the Russian prophetic mode followed a century later by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A political presence because of his impact on public opinion, he steered clear of direct political involvement. He was above politics. ‘On the one hand,’ Lenin wrote of him in 1908, ‘we have a remarkably powerful, direct and sincere protest against social lies and falsehood, while on the other we have the Tolstoyan, i ...

A Spy in the Archives

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Was I a spy?, 2 December 2010

... believe in Mary as my name, and in any case it turned out that all educated Russians knew the name Sheila – which had an easy diminutive, Shaylochka – because they had read C.P. Snow.) It was impossible to live in the Soviet Union as a foreigner and not become obsessed with spying. (If anyone doubts this, read Michael Frayn’s wonderful novel The Russian ...

The Good Old Days

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Dacha-Owning Classes, 9 October 2003

Summerfolk 1710-2000: A History of the Dacha 
by Stephen Lovell.
Cornell, 259 pp., £18.95, April 2003, 0 8014 4071 8
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Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc 
edited by David Crowley and Susan Reid.
Berg, 261 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 1 85973 533 9
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Caviar with Champagne: Common Luxury and the Ideals of the Good Life in Stalin’s Russia 
by Jukka Gronow.
Berg, 179 pp., £15.99, October 2003, 1 85973 633 5
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The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism 
by Caroline Humphrey.
Cornell, 265 pp., £13.95, May 2002, 0 8014 8773 0
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... Who could ever forget everyday life in the old Soviet Union? The sheer oddness of the way the place functioned, the incongruity between functioning and pretension. The discomfort and inconvenience, the drabness, the constant shortages and roundabout ways of getting things, the ubiquity of pull and patronage, the insignificance of money, the awfulness of officials, the splendid company of friends talking philosophy around kitchen tables, the sense of being caught in a time warp that was supposed to be the future but felt like the past ...

Terkinesque

Sheila Fitzpatrick: A Leninist version of Soviet history, 1 September 2005

The Soviet Century 
by Moshe Lewin, edited by Gregory Elliott.
Verso, 416 pp., £25, February 2005, 1 84467 016 3
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... When I was growing up in Australia in the late 1950s and 1960s, the displaced European intellectual turned academic was a familiar figure on university campuses. Refugees from totalitarian and wartime Europe, conversant with Marx and Weber, polyglot and multilingual (but always with strongly accented English), veterans of complicated doctrinal wars in the sectarian world of European socialism, these rumpled figures, whom it was impossible to imagine had ever been young, provoked awed attention in some students and light-hearted mockery in others ...

Normal People

Sheila Fitzpatrick: SovietSpeak, 25 May 2006

Everything Was For Ever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation 
by Alexei Yurchak.
Princeton, 331 pp., £15.95, December 2005, 0 691 12117 6
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... If there is a prize for best title of the year, this book surely deserves it. Alexei Yurchak, a Russian-born, US-trained anthropologist, has written an interesting and provocative book about the way young Soviet Russians talked in the Brezhnev period and what they meant by what they said. For Yurchak, discourse is everything: there is no ‘real world’ outside the world we construct via language ...

Pessimism and Boys

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The diary of a Soviet schoolgirl, 6 May 2004

The Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl 1932-37 
by Nina Lugovskaya, translated by Joanne Turnbull.
Glas, 215 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 9785717200653
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... To hell with the new society! It’s only Gennady who can get wrapped up in it and spend hours reading what Lenin and Stalin said and about the achievements of our Soviet Union. Fourteen-year-old Nina Lugovskaya wrote this in her diary on 2 May 1933 (Gennady was a classmate). Four years later, the secret police confiscated the diary and arrested its author ...

Obscene Child

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Mozart, 5 July 2007

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography 
by Piero Melograni, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Chicago, 300 pp., £19, December 2006, 0 226 51956 2
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Mozart: The First Biography 
by Franz Niemetschek, translated by Helen Mautner.
Berghahn, 77 pp., £17.50, November 2006, 1 84545 231 3
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Mozart’s Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music 
by Jane Glover.
Pan, 406 pp., £7.99, April 2006, 0 330 41858 0
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... As Saul Bellow once wrote, we have a problem talking about Mozart. It is the fear of having to contemplate transcendence and being embarrassed by something for which we have no vocabulary. To make matters worse, Mozart composed sublime music but, in contrast to Beethoven, had the wrong personality for sublimity, being prone to clowning and lavatory humour ...

Better to bend the stick too far

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The history of Russia, 4 February 1999

A History of 20th-Century Russia 
by Robert Service.
Allen Lane, 654 pp., £25, July 1998, 0 7139 9148 8
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... Has 20th-century Russia a history? The problem is that Russia – or, to be precise, the Russian Federation – became a nation state, or something approximating to it, only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For nearly seventy years (1923-1991), it was part of the Soviet Union; for the first 17 years of the century, it was part of the multinational empire ruled by the Romanovs ...

Many Promises

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Prokofiev in Russia, 14 May 2009

The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years 
by Simon Morrison.
Oxford, 491 pp., £18.99, November 2008, 978 0 19 518167 8
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... It is generally assumed that Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich were forced by the regime to simplify their style and write ‘life-affirming’ music that conformed to the canons of Socialist Realism. Most people think this was bad for their music, though a few hold the contrary. Now comes the shocker from Simon Morrison, a Princeton musicologist: Prokofiev wanted to write simple, life-affirming music because he was a Christian Scientist ...

Diary

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Andrei Platonov, 1 December 2016

... It’s almost time​ to celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, but there are few real celebrants left, in Russia at least. For most Russians, Stalin the nation-builder is part of the usable past, but Lenin cuts less ice, and the Bolshevik Revolution is an outright embarrassment. No doubt it won’t be possible to ignore the centenary altogether, as Putin might like ...

Almost Lovable

Sheila Fitzpatrick: What Stalin Built, 30 July 2015

Landscapes of Communism: A History through Buildings 
by Owen Hatherley.
Allen Lane, 613 pp., £25, June 2015, 978 1 84614 768 5
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... Back in the day​ , everyone knew that Stalinist architecture was hateful. The Poles notoriously loathed the Palace of Culture and Science that was the gift to war-ruined Warsaw from the Soviet elder brother or – as the Poles saw it – master. Foreigners and sophisticated Russians sneered at Moscow’s wedding-cake buildings and lamented the old Tverskaya that had undergone a Stalinist remake as Gorky Street ...

Voldemort or Stalin?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Shostakovich, 1 December 2011

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets 
by Wendy Lesser.
Yale, 350 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 300 16933 1
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 
by Judith Kuhn.
Ashgate, 296 pp., £65, February 2010, 978 0 7546 6406 2
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... Dmitry Shostakovich was once seen in the West as the quintessential Soviet loyalist. Avant-garde composers despised him and official descriptions of him as a ‘fighter for peace’, ‘progress’ and ‘humanism’ didn’t help his reputation in the world outside. Things he himself said over the years appeared to confirm the Soviet image: his Third Symphony (1930) was entitled First of May and a Soviet music journal reported him as saying in 1940 that ‘to write a symphony immortalising Lenin’s name’ had always been his ‘cherished dream’ (though he never did write one ...

Deaths at Two O’Clock

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Suicide in the USSR, 17 February 2011

Lost to the Collective: Suicide and the Promise of Soviet Socialism, 1921-29 
by Kenneth Pinnow.
Cornell, 276 pp., £32.95, March 2011, 978 0 8014 4766 2
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... Say you are killing yourself in the name of the Russian intelligentsia, and you will die like a hero. That one shot will awaken the sleeping conscience of this country … Your name will become a household word. Your death will be the topic of the day. Your picture will be in all the papers … The Russian intelligentsia will gather about your coffin ...

People and Martians

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 24 January 2019

The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties 
by Robert Conquest.
Bodley Head, 576 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 84792 568 8
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The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine 
by Robert Conquest.
Bodley Head, 412 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 84792 567 1
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... They say [disapprovingly] that we were Cold Warriors. Yes, and a bloody good show, too. A lot of people weren’t Cold Warriors – and so much the worse for them.Robert Conquest, quoted by Jay Nordlinger in National Review, 9 December 2002There are rules​ for writing about the enemy in wartime. You must never forget that your side and his are at war, and that your side is right and his is wrong ...

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