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Vodka + Caesium

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Nostalgia for the USSR, 20 October 2016

Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future 
by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait.
Penguin, 294 pp., £9.99, April 2016, 978 0 241 27053 0
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Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets 
by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich.
Fitzcarraldo, 694 pp., £14.99, May 2016, 978 1 910695 11 1
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... Svetlana Alexievich​ won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, but some people still don’t think her books are literature. In fact, they are collective oral histories, of similar genre, though completely different in tone, to those of Studs Terkel in the United States, whom she has probably never read. Her main influence as far as genre is concerned was the Belorussian writer Ales Adamovich, who in the 1970s (with Daniil Granin) collected the testimonies of wartime Leningrad survivors in Blokadnaia kniga, but that’s not very helpful in a Western context since nobody has heard of him ...
Zinky Boys: The Record of a Lost Soviet Generation 
by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Julia Whitby and Robin Whitby.
Chatto, 192 pp., £9.99, January 1992, 0 7011 3838 6
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... for themselves, in other words, which was neither a Soviet nor a pre-Soviet literary practice. Svetlana Alexievich, a young Belorussian journalist, has managed to escape from the leaden disciplines of Soviet journalism in which she must have been trained, to discover this mode of presenting her material, and has used it well, if at times ...

I was warmer in prison

Vadim Nikitin: ‘A Terrible Country’, 11 October 2018

A Terrible Country 
by Keith Gessen.
Fitzcarraldo, 352 pp., £12.99, July 2018, 978 1 910695 76 0
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... both the trauma and the possibilities of the post-Soviet world – among them Medvedev and Svetlana Alexievich. Following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea, Gessen’s dispatches from Odessa and separatist Donetsk gave voice to the ‘losers’ from the fall of the USSR, whose many legitimate grievances, often flailing and inarticulate or ...

Commotion in Moscow

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Paris Syndrome, 1 August 2019

To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture 
by Eleonory Gilburd.
Harvard, 458 pp., £28.95, January 2019, 978 0 674 98071 6
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... the same tone of Soviet/Communist nostalgia to be found in the film Goodbye Lenin! or the work of Svetlana Alexievich and the late Svetlana Boym. But it’s an interesting variant, in that the subject is not the Soviet Union itself but rather a vision of the West that collectively entranced several late Soviet ...

Great Male Narcissist

Christopher Tayler: Sigrid Nunez, 1 August 2019

Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury 
by Sigrid Nunez.
Soft Skull, 172 pp., £12.50, August 2019, 978 1 59376 582 8
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The Friend 
by Sigrid Nunez.
Virago, 213 pp., £8.99, February 2019, 978 0 349 01281 0
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... you at least have made me Italian?’) They argue about her abandoned piece, and about Svetlana Alexievich: ‘The reason people now cringe at the idea that you have to be gifted in order to write,’ she says, ‘is that it leaves too many voices out. Alexievich makes it possible for people to be heard, to ...


Sheila Fitzpatrick: Andrei Platonov, 1 December 2016

... awfulness and grandeur of the revolutionary years. There are still Soviet nostalgics like Svetlana Alexievich around, but the world they have lost is a postwar one. For Platonov and Sats, born respectively in 1899 and 1903, the Revolution was the touchstone of their lives. As a 15-year-old student of piano at the Kiev Conservatory, Sats ran away ...

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