random musings / rant

Самое главное -it sells

This post will be a quick one on a subtle post-Maidan development in the Russia bookosphere.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Paperback Swap and Amazon lately, both to get books for myself and to help create a list of recommended additions for P.— Library’s Russian/post-Soviet studies shelves. Like with my content of a shelf experiment, I noticed what might be another emerging trend among books in my field of study, and like its predecessor, it’s not necessarily a good one.

To illustrate my point, here are a few examples. All boldface emphasis is my own.

From the synopsis of Sergei Lebedev’s Oblivion:

This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today’s Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.

From the synopsis of Sophie Pinkham’s Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine:

In the tradition of Elif Batuman and Ian Frazier, Black Square presents an evocative, multidimensional portrait of Ukrainian life under the shadow of Putin. In vivid, original prose, Sophie Pinkham draws us into the fascinating lives of her contemporaries—a generation that came of age after the fall of the USSR, only to see protestors shot on Kiev’s main square, Maidan; Crimea annexed by Russia; and a bitter war in eastern Ukraine.

From the synopsis of Serhiy Zhadan’s Voroshilovgrad:

Voroshilovgrad mixes post-Soviet magical realism and postmodern road novel in a heady fusion that tears over the now war-torn endless eastern Ukrainian steppe, eerily presaging the Russian invasion that would come just a couple of years after this book was originally published.

From the synopsis of Dominic Ziegler’s Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River:

The long shared history on the Amur has conditioned the way China and Russia behave toward each other and toward the outside world. To understand Putin’s imperial dreams, we must comprehend Russia’s relationship to its far east and how it still shapes the Russian mind. Not only is the Amur a key to Putinism, its history is also embedded in an ongoing clash of empires with the West.

Let me be clear: the popularization of Ukrainian culture is not a bad thing at all. It’s actually nice to see renewed interest in other countries of the Post-Soviet space. But when a country is promoted through using unverifiable, contested, hyperbolic or just plain false claims, that is when I have a problem. I don’t care if this seems like an over-reaction. It’s one thing to get your readers interested in Ukrainian culture or Russian history or a river shared between Russia and China. But if to do that, you have to say that Putin completely dominates Ukraine, Russia’s actively (and successfully) repressing historical memory, and that the river is the KEY to understanding Putinism, you’re obviously capitalizing on your readers’ ignorance and picking a side in a conflict that has been long and drawn-out precisely (and partially) because people have steadfastly refused to step away from their chosen sides! It would be helpful for publishers to verify whether in fact dark periods in Russia’s past are being “forcefully removed from public memory”; to stop spreading word of Putin’s imagined imperial dreams – nay, to stop using Putin for marketing purposes altogether; and to acknowledge that we aren’t clear on whether Russia has actually invaded Ukraine.

But why think too hard about that sort of thing? It’s Russia, after all. The most important thing is that it sells.

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