After the Gulag

  • The Gulag Survivor: Beyond the Soviet System,
    Nanci Adler, Transaction, 290 pp.
  • Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia,
    by Catherine Merridale, Penguin, 402 pp.
  • Reabilitatsiya: Kak Eto Bylo (Rehabilitation: How It Was),
    by Andrei Artizov, Yuri Sigachev, Vyacheslav Khlopov, and Ivan Shevchuk,
    Moscow: International Democracy Foundation, 502 pp.

In 1955, the Russian writer Yuri Dombrovsky returned home to Moscow after twenty-five years in Soviet camps and exile—twenty-five years “out there”—to discover that he had not, after all, been completely forgotten. He was handed a rehabilitation document, given a grudging pension, assigned a single room in a communal apartment. Although few of his works would ever be published again, he was allowed to rejoin the Writer’s Union. Most of his colleagues there shunned him. Continue reading “After the Gulag”

The Gulag Argumento

Martin Amis swings at Stalin and hits his own best friend instead.

Judging by the reviews, Martin Amis’ new book, Koba the Dread, will produce an unusually wide range of reactions—but that is hardly surprising. Although Amis is best known as a novelist, Koba the Dread is a truly unique, not to say peculiar, work of nonfiction: a potted history of Stalin’s reign (“Koba” was Stalin’s nickname), plus a few random, mostly trivial vignettes from Amis’ own life, plus some less trivial but out-of-context ruminations on the deaths of Amis’ father and sister. Continue reading “The Gulag Argumento”

A Look in History’s Mirror

  • The Russia Hand: a Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
    by Strobe Talbott, Published by Random House, 2003, 512 pp.

Dear Strobe,

I read your book as if it were a detective novel—I was unable to put it down until late in the night, picked it up again first thing in the morning, and didn’t stop until I had finished. This isn’t just because it is well-written (which it is) but because for 10 years I watched, and sometimes wrote about, many of the incidents you describe—albeit from the perspective of someone working in Russia, not someone managing U.S. policy to Russia. Reading your version of events felt like looking at the past in a mirror. Continue reading “A Look in History’s Mirror”

Stylishly but consistently wrong

  • The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000
    by Gore Vidal, Doubleday 2001, 480 pp.

To describe this book as badly timed is an understatement. It isn’t just badly timed, it is atrociously badly timed, grotesquely badly timed, even obscenely badly timed. Although it is simply a collection of Gore Vidal’s essays, written between 1992 and 2000, and contains, among other things, entertaining portraits of Charles Lindbergh, Clare Boothe Luce and Al Gore, Jr, it does also have a larger theme, or rather a set of themes. Continue reading “Stylishly but consistently wrong”