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When were you thinking of shooting yourself?

Sophie Pinkham: Mayakovsky, 16 February 2017

MayakovskyA Biography 
by Bengt Jangfeldt, translated by Harry Watson.
Chicago, 616 pp., £26.50, January 2015, 978 0 226 05697 5
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Volodya: Selected Works 
by Vladimir Mayakovsky, edited by Rosy Carrick.
Enitharmon, 312 pp., £14.99, November 2015, 978 1 910392 16 4
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... When​ Vladimir Mayakovsky shot himself in 1930, some Soviet writers interpreted it as an act of protest: stifled by political censorship, he couldn’t go on. In the decades since, the suicide of the great poet of the Revolution has been seen as the Soviet Union’s point of no return. This is the view taken by the Swedish scholar Bengt Jangfeldt in this biography, the first significant non-Soviet Life of the poet: ‘The bullet that penetrated Vladimir Mayakovsky’s heart also shot to pieces the dream of communism and signalled the beginning of the communist nightmare of the 1930s ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

David Jackson: Russia and the Arts , 19 May 2016

... It also takes in significant but less well-known figures, such as the formidable critic Vladimir Stasov, whose efforts did a great deal to shape the cultural scene. The portraits are drawn from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the first museum dedicated to Russian art, amassed by the wealthy merchant collector Pavel ...

Amerikanist Dreams

Owen Hatherley, 21 October 2021

Building a New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture 
by Jean-Louis Cohen.
Yale, 544 pp., £30, September 2020, 978 0 300 24815 9
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Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital 
by Katherine Zubovich.
Princeton, 280 pp., £34, January, 978 0 691 17890 5
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... he was killed in the Great Purge. There are also wonderful sections on the work of the engineer Vladimir Shukhov, whose career spanned the pre and post-revolutionary eras and whose beautiful latticework towers, which made such an impression on the likes of Norman Foster, were adopted as masts in the design of American battleships.Cohen also discusses the ...

Drowned in Eau de Vie

Modris Eksteins: New, Fast and Modern, 21 February 2008

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond 
by Peter Gay.
Heinemann, 610 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 434 01044 8
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... write nihil on anything that has been done before,’ declaimed the Bolshevik poet-enthusiast Vladimir Mayakovsky. As to the fate of this urge, Gay accepts the more or less standard view that Modernism lost its momentum and inspiration as it was absorbed into the mainstream. When modern art could be found in the corridors of power, when theatre of ...
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia 
by Orlando Figes.
Allen Lane, 729 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 7139 9517 3
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... whose museum Stravinsky made a pilgrimage in 1962), Kandinsky, Malevich, Pasternak and Mayakovsky lived. After the Revolution, ‘it became the Soviet capital, the cultural centre of the state, a city of modernity and of the new industrial society the Bolsheviks wanted to build.’ Tatlin designed a monument, never built, to express these ...

Howling Soviet Monsters

Tony Wood: Vladimir Sorokin, 30 June 2011

The Ice Trilogy 
by Vladimir Sorokin, translated by Jamey Gambrell.
NYRB, 694 pp., £12.99, April 2011, 978 1 59017 386 2
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Day of the Oprichnik 
by Vladimir Sorokin.
Farrar, Straus, 191 pp., $23, March 2011, 978 0 374 13475 4
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... In Vladimir Sorokin’s novel The Queue, one of the protagonists is struggling with a crossword: ‘1 Across – Russian Soviet writer.’ Suggestions come from people next to him in the long line that is the book’s setting and subject – Sholokhov, Mayakovsky? – but are rejected, because neither fits both adjectives at the same time ...

A Very Athletic Person

T.J. Binyon, 26 May 1994

Strolls with Pushkin 
by Abram Tertz, translated by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava Yastremski.
Yale, 175 pp., £17.95, February 1994, 0 300 05279 0
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... and Lenin jokes, taking it as an indication of the kinship between the Lenin and Pushkin cults. Mayakovsky, in Vladimir Ilich Lenin, written soon after Lenin’s death, begins by expressing his fear lest      processions and mausoleums an established statute of devotions should cover with sickly-sweet unction ...

Sasha, Stalin and the Gorbachovshchina

T.J. Binyon, 15 September 1988

Children of the Arbat 
by Anatoli Rybakov, translated by Harold Shukman.
Hutchinson, 688 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 09 173742 7
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Pushkin House 
by Andrei Bitov, translated by Susan Brownsberger.
Weidenfeld, 371 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 297 79316 0
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The Queue 
by Vladimir Sorokin, translated by Sally Laird.
Readers International, 198 pp., £9.95, May 1988, 9780930523442
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Moscow 2042 
by Vladimir Voinovich, translated by Richard Lourie.
Cape, 424 pp., £11.95, April 1988, 0 224 02532 5
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The Mushroom-Picker 
by Zinovy Zinik, translated by Michael Glenny.
Heinemann, 282 pp., £11.95, January 1988, 0 434 89735 3
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by Natalya Lowndes.
Hodder, 384 pp., £12.95, January 1988, 0 340 41060 4
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... public statement which would have been expected from the other novel. Stichomythia run wild, Vladimir Sorokin’s The Queue consists solely of one-line exchanges between members of a queue – the longest in Moscow – which, some two thousand strong, winds its way up and down the alleys and streets of a suburban district in pursuit of some ...

Aphrodite bends over Stalin

John Lloyd, 4 April 1996

... of employment, designed in part to cut the huge cost of the theatrical army. The business manager, Vladimir Kokonin, defeated him in a fashion unthinkable in Soviet times. ‘People are going to have to start justifying their salaries,’ Kokonin announced. ‘We don’t want time-serving civil service types.’ Grigorovich has gone with dignity: not so Oleg ...

Pasternak and the Russians

John Bayley, 4 November 1982

The Correspondence of Boris Pasternak and Olga Friedenberg 1910-1954 
edited by Elliott Mossman, translated by Elliott Mossman and Margaret Wettlin.
Secker, 365 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 436 28855 9
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... that the ‘ “majority” should not cross the threshold of poetry’. He could never say, in Mayakovsky’s words, ‘the more poets – good ones and varied – the better.’ He strongly objected to ‘a multiplicity of people working in art’, because this inhibited ‘the emergence of someone ... who will redeem their plurality with his ...

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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... and crime. Mikhail Gernet, an academic who had taught at Moscow University and worked at Vladimir Bekhterev’s Psychoneurological Institute before the Revolution, was the leading figure here. Like Leibovich, he seems to have been neither a Marxist nor a Party member, but his career prospered under the Soviet regime: he helped found the State ...

The Girl Who Waltzes

Laura Jacobs: George Balanchine, 9 October 2014

Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer 
by Elizabeth Kendall.
Oxford, 288 pp., £22.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 995934 1
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... a treble clef. ‘I am not a man, but a cloud in trousers,’ Balanchine would often say, quoting Mayakovsky. ‘Sometimes I would like to be one of the sounds created by Tchaikovsky,’ Ivanova once wrote, ‘so that sounding softly and sadly, I could dissolve in the evening mist.’ Affinity is a kind of lyricism, fluid, intangible – the cloud in ...

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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... had disappointed them.’ Many people didn’t even bother to sell them. ‘Volumes of Gorky and Mayakovsky piled up in the dumpsters. People would drop the complete works of Lenin off at the paper recycling centre.’ For people who still identified with Soviet values, it was an agonising time. ‘I’ve fallen behind,’ one woman said, invoking the old ...


Craig Raine: In Moscow, 22 March 1990

... of Sheremetievo airport and the ring-mail burnished rust of the ceiling’s empty pilchard tins. Vladimir Stabnikov is waiting for us. I have met him before, in England and in the Soviet Union. Small, thick-set, black-eyed, densely-bearded, restlessly rubbing his hands, inexplicably powerful, grinning indefatigably, he wafts our party into the VIP ...

One Exceptional Figure Stood Out

Perry Anderson: Dmitri Furman, 30 July 2015

... Pasternak the rule; not to speak of those who sided with the revolution (Platonov, Babel, Mayakovsky) – the human sciences were badly affected. Of those who stayed, the Formalists and their kin survived best: Shklovsky, Tynyanov, Eikhenbaum; Voloshinov and Bakhtin; Propp. Political science, sociology, economics, literary history were another ...

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