Serendipity Rules OK

  • The Oxford Companion to English Literature
    ed. Margaret Drabble, Oxford University Press, 1995, 1184pp.

It isn’t history, it isn’t fiction, and it isn’t scholarship, although it contains elements of all three: in fact, one might say that The Oxford Companion to English Literature belongs in a genre all of its own. That being the case, one might also say that reviews of Companions to English Literature belong to a genre all of their own as well. Continue reading “Serendipity Rules OK”

Third thoughts on a tricky subject

  • The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon,
    by Anthony Summersl, Gollancz, 640pp.

Do we need another biography of Richard Nixon? Anthony Summers thinks we do, and you can see his point. Long vilified, even before Watergate, as one of the dirtiest players in American politics, Nixon experienced a revival towards the end of his life. Revisionist biographies appeared (not least one by Jonathan Aitken), speeches were made, a Nixon Centre was established and the disgraced president gradually acquired the halo of an elder statesman and foreign policy expert, a man widely consulted by sitting politicians, Bill Clinton among them. Continue reading “Third thoughts on a tricky subject”

The battle for the Holocaust legacy

In the travelling over the past fifteen years or so, I reckon I have visited several dozen memorials to Hitler’s destruction of the Jews. I have been to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem; to the Polish museums and memorials commemorating Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the Warsaw ghetto; to uncounted monuments and plaques, wrecked synagogues and wrecked Jewish cemeteries in other parts of Eastern Europe, Germany and the former Soviet Union, all testifying to the terrifying absence of a nation which once was a major part of European culture. Continue reading “The battle for the Holocaust legacy”

Inside the Gulag

What we know now that we didn't know ten years ago.

  • Sistema Ispravitelno-Trudovikh Lagerei v SSSR, 1923-1960: Spravochnik
    (The System of Labor Camps in the USSR, 1923-1960: A Guide) edited by N.G. Okhotin, by A.B. Roginsky Moscow: Zvenya, 598 pp.
  • Labor Camp Socialism: The Gulag in the Soviet Totalitarian System
    by Galina Mikhailovna Ivanova M.E. Sharpe, 208 pp., $24.95 (paper)
  • Gulag v Komi Krai (The Gulag in the Komi Region)
    by N.A. Morozov
  • Siktivar: Siktivkarskii Universitet, 181 pp. Gulag v Karelii (The Gulag in Karelia)
    edited by Vasily Makurov
  • Petrozavodsk: Karelskii Nauchni Tsentr RAN,
    225 pp. Vyatlag by Viktor Berdinskikh
  • Kirov: Kirovskaya Oblastnaya Tipografia,
    318 pp. Polyansky ITL (Corrective Labor Camp) Zheleznogorska by S.P. Kuchin
  • Zheleznogorsk (Krasnoyarsk-26):
    Museino-Vystavochny Tsentr, 256 pp.
  • Till My Tale Is Told: Women's Memoirs of the Gulag
    edited by Vilensky Simeon Indiana University Press, 364 pp., $35.00

To some Russians, the memory of a first encounter with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is as much a physical memory–the blurry, mimeographed text, the dog-eared paper, the dim glow of the lamp switched on late at night–as it is one of reading the revelatory text itself. Continue reading “Inside the Gulag”

Dead Souls: Tallying the Victims of Communism

  • The Black Book of Communism,
    Edited by Stephane Courtois et al, trans. Mark Kramer and Jonathan Murphy,
    Harvard University Press, 1120pp.

Its pages were yellowed, its cheap binding broken, its typeface uneven: there was nothing imposing about the copy of Un Bagne en Russie Rouge – `A Prison in Red Russia’ – which someone once handed me as a curiosity. Nevetheless, the book, published in Paris in 1927, was one of the first to describe the Soviet Union’s earliest political prisons, located on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Continue reading “Dead Souls: Tallying the Victims of Communism”