Laughable and Tragic

  • The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke
    by Timothy Snyder
    Basic Books, 344 pp.

Perhaps it was the elaborate court rituals, perhaps it was the stiff manners of the royal family, or perhaps it was the swiftness of the final collapse: for whatever reason, even the most tragic tales of the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire often lapse into black humor. Continue reading “Laughable and Tragic”

The Spectre of Spielberg

  • Searching for Schindler
    by Thomas Keneally,
    Sceptre, 2008, 312pp.

Which would you rather read, The Great Gatsby or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s day-by-day account of the whisky he drank and the cigarettes he smoked while writing it? La Comédie humaine or a list of the cups of coffee Balzac downed, between midnight and sunrise, while putting all of those words down on paper? Continue reading “The Spectre of Spielberg”

Why is Vladimir Putin so scared of Georgia?

‘It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” In recent days, this famous Churchillian pronouncement on Russia has echoed through many an analysis. In particular, Vladimir Putin – former Russian president, current Russian prime minister, the man still clearly in charge of the country – has been held up as a great puzzle. Continue reading “Why is Vladimir Putin so scared of Georgia?”

Die Macht der Worte

In Erinnerung an Alexander Solschenizyns Gulag.

Obwohl mittlerweile drei Jahrzehnte vergangen sind seit jenem Winter 1974, als erste ungebundene, handgetippte Samisdat-Manuskripte des “Archipel Gulag” in der damals sogenannten Sowjetunion zu zirkulieren begannen, sind die Gefühle immer noch stark. Continue reading “Die Macht der Worte”

Deluded and abandoned

  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia
    by Tim Tzouliadis, Little, Brown, 472pp.

Once, while travelling in an odd part of Siberia, I was told of a place called ‘the English colony’. A remote spot — it was said to be several hours from the nearest town, but trains were infrequent and roads non-existent — the ‘English colony’ was the site of a former Soviet camp: a small piece of the gulag where the prisoners had been British. Or so the story went. Continue reading “Deluded and abandoned”

Planting Ideology

  • The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov
    by Peter Pringle
    Simon and Schuster, 384 pp.

Concentration camps, mass murders, wars, starvation: The history of the Soviet Union is not short of large-scale tragedies and crimes. But in cataloguing these events or counting up the dead, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Bolshevik Revolution left more than physical damage in its wake: Continue reading “Planting Ideology”

John McCain and Barack Obama have much in common in presidential race

And now, at last, we’ve got to the interesting part: the race between two candidates seemingly so different from one another that their opposing presidential campaigns can actually be described in large, sweeping metaphors. Continue reading “John McCain and Barack Obama have much in common in presidential race”