George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony

Practically nobody is willing to say it, so let us be as frank as possible: the decision to conduct the invasion of Iraq in consultation with the United Nations – a decision taken by President George W Bush partly to mollify his friend Tony Blair – has been utterly disastrous. Continue reading “George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony”

An Oddball Miles From Anywhere

  • Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, A Biographical Portrait
    by Jerzy Ficowski, (translated by Theodosia Robertson)
    W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004, 282pp.

Hot and silent, dusty and deserted, the town of Drohobycz seemed, during the few summer days I spent there some years ago, like a place forgotten in time. The houses had a certain faded, Austro-Hungarian glamour, but seemed to have been built for different people, in a different era. The central market square had a certain pleasing symmetry, but practically no business was conducted there. The peasant women who had carved small vegetable gardens out of the tangles of weed that passed for shrubbery looked up suspiciously when a stranger passed, and then looked quickly down again. Continue reading “An Oddball Miles From Anywhere”

Saddam is a pushover compared to Kim Jong Il

This weekend, Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, is not in Israel or in Jordan, preparing for imminent war with Iraq. He is not in Europe, mollifying allies. Instead, he is in Japan and South Korea, quietly dealing with the other weapons-of-mass-destruction crisis, the one we have heard much less about. Continue reading “Saddam is a pushover compared to Kim Jong Il”

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”