Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

Winston’s covers a surge of serge

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Another Russian gem is this one from NYRB I have once cover Victor Serge on the blog and have been eager to try others even if it is just an excuse to buy some great NYRB covers

Winston’s covers Turn turn Turgenev

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As  the year draws to an end I think the rest of the year I will do just Russian covers first up is a Turgenev. A novel of a homecoming, have recently read another classic Russian novel I feel 2016 may be my year of russian novels I will add a few more Russian novels to the blog and will be showing the covers til end of year of the books I have either as reread or unread to add to the blog. Have you a favourite Russian Novel ?

Winston’s covers 2 same old story or is it

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I started Ivan Goncharov same old story last night here is my edition of what is considered his masterpiece Oblomov. I have been lucky to get the new translation of same old story to read from Alma books.I do like this old penguin cover it.is rather creepy I found.

Winston’s books A nobel and a night film some new books

I had a few appealing books arrive this last couple of days from some well known writers and also a bargain find. I collected a number of parcels from post office and found –

death by water by kenzaburo Oe

A new book from a Nobel Laurate is always a welcome book to read and I have only reviewed on other book by Kenzaboro Oe on the blog A personnel matter a story inspired by his son. This seems inspired by his father and a case of writers block it follows Kogito Choko a nobel winning writer struggling to write about his late father with whom he had a trouble relationship that was never resolved before he drown. So a red chest from his sister full of his fathers possessions maybe hold the secrets from the past.

for two thousands years by Mihail Sebastian

The second arrival is a classic from Romania Mihail Sebastian was a prominent figure in literary circles in the Romania in the early 1930’s. This autobiographical novel follows him as Facist takeover and deep rooted Anti semitism starts to take hold. The quote on the cover is Arthur Miller who compares his writing to Chekov.

same old story by Ivan Goncharov

I read Goncharov masterpiece Oblomov years and years ago so when Alma said they had a translation of his first novel The same old story a tale of alexander a poet who moves from the country to the city. He sees his ideal of life in the city changed as he struggles with the ruthless world of the city.

night film by Marisha Pessel

Now last is one of those bargain books we all find. I am a cfan of pound shops we always visit the one in town mainly for some lotus biscuits, but there is always something to find that is a bargain and I can’t help shifting through books most time I know it is going be a lot of books I don’t want but once in a blue moon a gem turns up and this is one such book it came out two years ago and is a novel about a horror director that hasn’t been seen in public for ear then his daughter dies and this gives a chance to a Journalist McGarth that has want to expose the director Cordova for a number of years but has lost a lot in this journey. The book also has an app to unlock interactive feature although I need use my old iphone to use it.

What books have you had arrive recently ?

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

russian stories

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

Spanish fiction (or russian !)

Translator from Catalan Peter Bush

Translator from Russian Anastasia Maximova

Original  title Contes Russo

Source – review copy

Fransesc   Serés is a Catalan   writer he studied fine art and Anthropology at university ,after this he became a writer he has publish over ten books of novel and short stories in Spain and has also produced a number of stage works . He is also a professor of art history and a Russophile .

Consequently , if it weren’t for this confession of mine , nobody would know that Elvis Presley gave a concert in Moscow’s red square.

Yes , you heard me , a concert in Red square in 1958

It was one of the many demonstrations of strength the superpowers made during the cold war .A stupid one , but it was ,at the end of the day , a demonstration of strength .

Well imagine if the King had played in Moscow .

Frnacesc Serés happen in his love of Russian literature this lead him to coming  across a unmined wealth of lost , writing that hadn’t seen the light of day outside Russia .He gathered together 21 different stories from five new to us in the west  writers spanning the history of modern Russia .We start in modern Russia Ola Yevgueniyeva born in 1967 writes about Putin’s Russia stewardess contrast their world and the places they go and how their world is changing .Also a wonderful story of a chess match between an old gent and a young girl almost showing the change in modern Russia from the older player to the younger player .Then we move back through time with each subsequent writer .The next writer  Vera-Margarita she evokes the soviet past story of red square mentions of Lenin and Stalin .Then we get to Vitali Kroptkin and my favourite story Elvis Presley sings in Red Square ,did you know that Elvis had song in Red square in 1958 well he had new KGB files show ,a fun look at what could have happened had the King played in Russia .Then  we have Aleksandr Volkov he wrote of the post world war two soviet regime also how bizarre the state could be at times given the story about Voromians ,I liked this because it was just them remove the name and it is at heart of a number of incidents involving separate races with in the soviet sphere .The last writer Josef Bergghenko takes us to a pre world war two soviet times .

Voromians are pleasant , the odd one even looks at her as if he regonises her . one couple are called Var and Mirtila , like so many they ask her where they will be taken .She can’t think what to reply

A group that have been moved by the purges .

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it well it is amazing to discover these unknown writers ,ha nearly had you no the book is entirely made up by the writer francesec  Serés it is an homage to soviet writing but also a look into maybe what might have been written .He manages to pull it off with great style each writers piece do seem as thou they are from a different voice they are completely from the hands of Fransesc  Serés he has playfully mixed styles of contemporaries of the figures he is writing about so you get sense of these writers writing in their time echoes of kafka the fun of Bulgakov  .A book for fans of Russian literature but also the likes of Borges .I also discovered an interesting interview here it is in Spanish but comes across reasonably well via google translate .

Brief loves that live forever by Andreï Makine

Brief loves that live forever

Brief loves that live forever byAndreï Makine

Russian fiction

Original title  Le Livre des brèves amours éternelles,

Translator Geoffrey Strachan

Source Review copy

I ve reviewed Maikne before on the blog twice before the life of an unknown man and Human love  ,so have said a lot about the siberian born russian that has made his home in France and now writes in French .He is also now being published by Maclehose press for the first time .So this is his latest collection I m not sure if its a Novel or a interlocking collection of stories my self .

All young lovers travel this road and all ,in their alarm ,have only one soloution :to put pressure on the limits our poor human bodies impose on us .We doubled the violence of embraces,seeking now the complicty of the sea at night ,now the solitude of water falls in the forest.

Love in the soviet era is grasped at for all it is worth

So as you see on  the cover art, you sense what this book is  about  before you  read this book well the  picture gave me a sense of something being  a  tale of past like the birds that fly away every year but are remembered .This book is at heart russian and about loss and love ,but also moments in life .The life in collection is that of Dimitri Ress ,now on his way out of life .But through these eight chapters / stories ,we glimpse the love in harsh times ,what love is how we view love from a child through growing to becoming an adult .All this is set against a backdrop of 60’s and 70’s Russia .We see the child in an orphanage ,via an older man who has come to see them able to touch the very beginning of communism as this man had met Lenin ,through a holiday affair ,a women visiting a grave in France ,the Afghan war Ress gets injured .The dark grim times I remember of Brezhnev  we saw in the west those news reports of what seemed a very grim place ,here don’t seem so grim at times and shows as ever love can win through rather like Nadas in Parallel stories love and sex or even the whiff of sex is all that remains given communism .The start of the book also remind me of the start of life of an unknown man as it is two men meeting and one telling his life to the other .The women he meets and loves and how he remembers them remind me at times of the lines from the film city slicker where Jack Palance talks about a women he saw but never meet and just the fact that he could she her outline against the sun ,this is how Ress remembers not the whole just the feel of the women .

At the time of our meeting almost thirty years ago ,these were the solemm word I believed were needed to sum up Dimtri Ress’s life:a revolt against a world in which hatred is the rule and love a strange anomaly .And the failure of God whose creation man is called upon to set to rights …

Near the end his friend sums up the man .

Well I love Makine  ,his books always strike a chord with me and this book has the classic hooks of his writing they are soviet russia ,love as in this case not always working out ,the struggle for a better life .Though he lives in France and has as I said before has written other books under an alias that made the French press think there was a new French talent but no it was Makine ,where as his own writing is distinctively Russian ,with a real sense of longing and asking ,but I do always sense hope in his works and ok it doesn’t always work out .I’m not sure how you describe the book a novel or episodic novel but it lingers with you after you’ve put the book down remember like a collection of old sepia photos you’ve just pulled from under your bed and gone through and tell some one Ress memories some how drift into your own .Just wonderful .

Have you read Makine ?

 

The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyacheslav Pyetsukh

Source- Review copy

Translator – Krystyna Anna Steiger

Vyacheslav Pyetsuka is a Russian writer ,he is a trained historian ,he taught  russian and world history until the avant grade nature of his fiction lead to him losing his job ,he has since published numerous books in Russia ,and has had a number of his short stories translated ,notably in the new russian writing collection from Penguin .This book came out in Russia in 1989 and is new from Twisted spoon the czech based publisher .

The novel is set over course of a weekend and we follow it from friday to monday as the members of a collective household in Moscow gather and discuss what happened to the old women that had a flat in the building and who will get the space that is now free she isn’t there any more this book has echo’s of crime and punishment by Dostoyevsky ,like that book there is a large cast of people involved in the story telling process fourteen in all .The book is like a russian doll it becomes more and more as we move along we find out that the disappearance of  Alexandra Sergeyevena Pumpianskaya (don’t you just love that name ) may have more too it than first thought ,hence the echo to C&P was this a murder ,well we never know this isn’t a crime book it is a book about russian life ,art and philosophy as the tenants talk we see the previous hundred year of russian life and art mention in snippets .

Though it may seem speculative at first if not futile, investigating the relationship between life and what we call literature would be useful at this point .The relationship in question is extremely abtrusive undertaking, but is tempting  to try nonetheless .First it’s tempting to ascertain to what degree literature is a game and to what a book of fates , a textbook of life .

The opening of the second part “saturday”

Now this book is a must for any Russian lit fan ,as follows of this blog know I m russian lit light my self  but slowly working on this ,so I found this a book that sent me rushing to google at times to find out about this and that as I went a long ,so it gave me more of a passion to discover more russian Literature old and new and any book that makes you do that is always worth picking up .I think the other echo with C&P is the time when C&P was written Russia was a land of uncertain futures and this book in 1989 is the same this is just the time the new age of russia was happening .We also see how important space and station can be in a large city as the people in the building argue over this vacant space .all this and a lengthy discourse between two of them on the nature of what is evil .I must say the translator Krystyna Anna Steiger ,has manage to keep together what is a complex and mutlilayered book ,still hugely readable in English .

Have you a favourite new russian writer ?

le bal by Irene nemirovosky

 

LE BAL

Notes – 

These two short novellas le bal and snow in autumn where wrote in 1930 and 1931 .Irene Neimovosky was born in Kiev ,here family fled russia due to the revolution they settle in france where Irene wrote til the german invasion ,she was Jewish and died in Auschwitz in 1942 ,spent a number of years in obscurity til 2005 and suite Francaise came out ,this vol was published by vintage in 2007 ,Persephone has just published another collection of her short stories . 

The book – 

the two stories in the book are both about 50 pages long ,the first le bal follows a mother and daughter relationship the Kampf  ,the mother is a women who has made good ,but become a little stuck up along the way ,the daughter grew up use to money and his the perks of the money like an english governess  and finds her mother a little annoying at times  ,her mother is organizing a huge ball to finally announce their arrival in the upper echelon of paris society ,she tells her daughter Antoinette who is 14 years old  she can’t come to the ball . leading to a very cruel twist ! 

Madame Kampf said nothing about the previous nights argument to Antoinette ,but all through lunch she let her daughter know she was in a bad mood by barking out the kind of curt reprimands at which she excelled when she was angry . 

  

the second story follow a family as they escape the revolution in russia going via Odessa they are followed by the devoted servant Tatiana  the family Karine arrive in Paris but not everyone finds it so easy to adjust to Parisan life as the family adjusts to a new society and a drop in class .this story is shorter than the first but does seem like in invoke Irene’s own life . 

How could they all live like this shut up in these dark houses? when would the snow come ? 

Tatiana lamenting the small apartment in paris . 

My view –  

I read suite francaise ,liked but didn’t love it ,but these two stores were amazing she had a real talent as a shorter story writer ,le bal you were thrown in to the world of the Kampf’s and within a few pages could immediately visualise this family ,snow in autumn seemed as thou it was written from her own personnel experiences ,these are worthy to sit next to Chekhov and Maupassant ,the translation is great from Sandra Smith from the original french ,i will know look forward to the new collection on Persephone books . 

Links – 

the definitive Irene Nemirovky site

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