In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Vol. 7 No. 7 · 18 April 1985
Diary

Mysteries of the Russian Mind

Marc Weissman

From the Kiev princes to Politburo rule, from the atrocities of the forced Europeanisation introduced by Peter the Great to Stalin’s Sovietisation, and from the Polish invasion of Moscow in the early 17th century to Moscow’s imposition of martial law on Poland in 1980, the so-called Russian soul has swung between enlightenment and barbarism, humanism and cruelty. Russia’s tragedy is that it finds both the European and the Asian ways of life alien: it has never been able to comprehend them as two different civilisations, but has tended to identify ‘European’ as ‘civilised’ and ‘Asian’ as ‘barbarian’, while wagging from one extreme to another, or trying to combine them in some paradoxical unity. For all I know, this may be one aspect of the ‘mysterious’ Russian soul.

Since the Soviet Union closed its frontiers and put up its Iron Curtain, the behaviour of its citizens has become less and less predictable to Westerners. When the Western mind concludes that it’s Chernenko who is going to be the successor, it’s Andropov; instead of Gorbachev it’s Chernenko; and when it’s really Gorbachev, this appears to be – as the Russian saying goes – the exception that proves the rule. As somebody who was allowed an insight into Soviet life, therefore, I take it to be my duty to unveil one of the ‘mysteries’ of the Russian mind by providing Western readers with a description of the food this mind lives on. In the true Russian spirit I start with a paradoxical comparison between Gothic and Party literature. The principal difference between the two lies in the fact that the one tells you about a past that never existed and the other about a future which will never exist. Both deal with dreams – only, for the first, the dream is an uninhibited flight of fancy, while, for the second, it involves endless variations on the theme of Lenin’s article ‘The Party Organisation and Party Literature’. The spiritual atmosphere of the first originates in Medieval fears which are purely European, whereas the granny of the second is Ghengis Khan. Both terrify imaginative people.

What is surprising, however, is that both are known to the Soviet public – though not equally well, of course. The Soviet period has seen editions of Horace Walpole, Ludwig Tieck, the brothers Brentano, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Charles Maturin, Jacques Casot, Novalis and others in a revised Russian translation. Although the editions were limited and the books were to become bibliographical rarities almost as soon as they left the printing houses, they are still very much sought after. The Collected Speeches of Konstantin Chernenko ran to as many copies as The Godfather: yet it is safe to assume that Walpole’s Castle of Otranto is more widely read than the Collected Speeches. Why? Could it be ... No, we won’t go that far. The very suggestion would automatically be labelled slander by the Soviet press. Anyway, it is to the Western reader that this diary is addressed: the author’s forehead is far too tender to try to break through the Iron Curtain. Some books do that, though, as part of the policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’, or in support of the claim made by the USSR Ministry of Culture that it keeps the Soviet people posted on the pearls of world literature. What gets through, however, classics apart, is not always pearls and not always representative of modern Western literature. This is hardly surprising, considering the criteria of choice employed by the Soviet censorship department, Glavlit. To get through, the book must be politically inoffensive, so far as the Soviet Union is concerned (even if it is basically innocuous but mentions something ‘Soviet’ or ‘Russian’ in passing, as in the case of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, these passages are assiduously excised). It must be highly critical of life in ‘capitalist’ society (or must at least leave some slight revulsion about Western ways in the souls of the Russian readers). And it must not be sexually explicit. In general, the Soviet people must be kept away from any kind of dangerous excitement.

But even Glavlit is not all monolith, and is capable of slips, such as letting through to the country’s bookshops four years ago the notorious World according to Garp by John Irving. The result was a letter to Literaturnaya Gazeta by an enraged ‘intellectual’ who had bought the book for his teenage daughter. He intended it to help his daughter in her English studies, but instead found himself bombarded with all sorts of questions concerning those aspects of life he didn’t think his daughter was mature enough to know about. Belated action was taken and the cause of the embarrassment disappeared from the bookshelves.

Closely linked, in fact, with political changes in the Soviet leadership, the choice of ‘permitted’ books can appear merely whimsical. In spite of the efforts of black-marketeers and Samizdat publishers, the population’s reading habits are on the whole determined by what the state offers. The reasons for this are quite obvious: not only disseminating but also possessing, reading and discussing Samizdat publications are offences punishable by the USSR Criminal Code provisions contained under the general heading of ‘Anti-Soviet Activities’. It is understandable that very few Soviet citizens are prepared to expose themselves to the country’s draconian legal system – otherwise the very existence of the Soviet state would be in danger. That is why the image of Russian (and of world) literature as presented in the West is far removed from the one which exists in the minds of the Soviet people themselves.

Educated Westerners often put authors like Solzhenitsyn on a par with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, thinking of him as a ‘literary colossus out of Russia’, and some of them even wonder what the Soviet rank-and-file think of his literary abilities. A very naive question. For most Russians the mere mention of Solzhenitsyn’s name brings a shudder. His books are almost impossible to obtain, even if one is determined to go ahead and ignore the risks involved. The Soviet reading public knows Solzhenitsyn, not for the value of his works, but mainly from the wanton propaganda campaign whose organisers recently decided they had conferred too much credit on Solzhenitsyn’s personal qualities and started to refer to the ‘CIA operation Solzhenitsyn’. Ironically, one minor propaganda coup was achieved with the involuntary help of Solzhenitsyn himself: his name is phonetically associated with the root of the Russian words lozh and solgat – ‘a lie’ and ‘to tell a lie’.

The propaganda turned Solzhenitsyn into somebody like Orwell’s Bernstein, and the meetings of collective farmers who denounced the works they were unable to read bore a close resemblance to Orwell’s Hate Weeks. However, it is not as easy for the Soviet public to conjure up Orwellian images for comparative purposes as it is for Western readers. The name of Orwell is almost never mentioned in Russia: even among intellectuals. Aptly enough, he has been rendered a ‘non-person’.

Solzhenitsyn and Orwell apart, what kind of books are actually read in the Soviet Union? I trust the reader will forgive me if I have so far led him to believe that the only alternative is Pravda, Gorky, Simonov, and other socialist realists. It is often claimed by the USSR Ministry of Culture’s brochures that in the Soviet Union people read more books than anywhere else in the world. I would not discount this statement, although it has to be taken with a handful of salt. The Western reader has to bear in mind that there are very few other sources of entertainment in the Soviet Union. In the West, the most widely read publications are Sunday-paper colour-supplements and magazines specialising in various leisure activities. The curious mind, seeking to fill its empty spaces, slows down its quest as it relaxes in front of a television soap opera or to the sound of non-stop popular tunes humming on the radio, whereas in the Soviet Union fiction is a form of escape from the boredom of the mass media. A question arises here. Who is the better-off – those who are free to watch Coronation Street and Jaws or those who are compelled to read books by Dostoevsky and Balzac?

Join me on a short trip to the country’s capital. Let me make it very clear from the start, though, that I am not offering you anything more exciting than one of the usual Intourist routes. Let us present ourselves as open-minded, peaceful-co-existence-bound, reliable sources of much-valued hard currency – a real delight for the USSR Foreign Tourism Committee to have over. We shall not go where we are not invited. This explains why the sound of sniggering over recent ‘forbidden’ publications will never reach our ears from the Kremlin canteens; why our roundabout ways will never lead us to the spacious halls of the Central Lenin Library where bearded, bespectacled scholars are busily plastering the cracks in the facade of the most just state on earth. Neither are we going to be shown an ordinary ‘rayon’ library where, in a half-empty hall, some worker is probably making notes on Shepetalo’s Design of the VAZ-2011 Motor-Car’ in a vain bid for tips on improvising makeshift spare parts – those spare parts the shops are short of. Instead, we will do something simple, but not at all obvious: we will go down, sink even lower than the level of Moscow pavements, into a brightly-lit cave of the central Ploschad Revolyutsii metro station. Even before we reach the bottom, we notice some people bent over books standing on the steps of an escalator. Down at the station itself stands a serious-looking girl in thick-rimmed bifocals, leaning against the wall. She is dressed in a fashionable sheepskin coat and holding a book in her hands. We cannot help spotting the name of the author printed on the colourful cover of the paperback: François Mauriac. Overlooking her, in a niche, is the figure, slightly larger than life, of an armed revolutionary sailor carved in black basalt. The sculpture, which is probably there to symbolise the Soviet Army and Navy on guard to protect the peaceful labour and meaningful recreation activities of the Soviet people, is swollen with the pride of its creators and would not bother to look at what book the girl is reading. The sailor’s gaze is aimed well above the people’s heads, at a point somewhere in the misty far reaches of the beautiful Communist tomorrow.

The rattling and squealing of an approaching train stirs the people on the platform. The girl closes the book with her index finger inserted between the pages and gets in. Let’s follow her into the car. It’s not the rush hour yet but we find all the seats occupied. Never mind: it is easier to make our observations from above without attracting anybody’s attention. The girl is luckier than us – she squeezes herself between a stocky gentleman with the appearance of a wrestler-cum-bouncer, and an old babushka whose heavy breathing and pale, flabby cheeks betray a sad combination of asthma and age. Almost everybody reads. It’s a reading car.

The wrestler’s (or bouncer’s) eyes are fixed on a tatty book with an unrecognisable cover – actually, it looks as if some wrestling techniques have been tried on it. Nevertheless, your hidden talent as an archaeologist assists you to make sense of some upturned phrases and to identify them with the pot-boiler Boxing Ring beyond Barbed Wire, which is all about miracles of heroism shown by a Soviet boxer in a Nazi concentration camp. Somewhat disappointed, you look sideways to see what the babushka is reading. Here our persistence is rewarded. It is the magazine Inostrannaya Literatura – ‘Foreign Literature’ – which, along with verses by Vietnamese and Mongolian poets (mysterious enough for Russian readers, even in translation), prints the latest translations of Western novelists, such as Camus, Irving Shaw or Iris Murdoch. My God! She’s reading Updike’s Marry me. What’s this – a desperate attempt to bridge the generation gap? The magazine is extremely popular with younger people, sometimes it even dictates fashions, as was the case with Hermann Hesse’s Steppen wolf, when university students copied the manners of the lonely wolf in order to impress their girlfriends.

At the third stop the girl stands up and heads for the door. This time we shall leave her alone, unless we want the girl interrogated about her possible links with the imperialist world we represent. Anyway, it’s too late. ‘Mind the doors,’ warns a pre-recorded voice after the door has slammed shut.

A moment’s reflection costs you your last chance to get seated. A young pioneer kid in a red tie (just like one we saw on television saluting to the standard Party call, ‘Young pioneers, to the struggle for the progress of the Communist Party cause, be ready!’) promptly makes for the vacated seat. And, of course, he has got a book too – in fact, he shivers with anticipation as he opens it. If you cast a cautious look down, you will see what I just saw: knights and castles, battle of Hastings, somebody asserts that God has forsaken the Normans – wait, it must be Ivanhoe. You have heard his name before, haven’t you? But it may be news to you that in the Soviet Union generations of children have been brought up on Scott’s historical novels. The explanation is at hand: one of the founders of Marxism-Leninism referred to his books as a truthful representation of the class struggle in Medieval Europe. Meanwhile the poems of a second Scotsman, Robert Burns, are better-known in Russia than in his native Scotland – and for reasons that go beyond ideology. Burns’s language, somewhat difficult to understand in the original, has been beautifully rendered into lucid conversational Russian verse by Samuel Marshak.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.