Holiday booklist

What better way to celebrate the holidays than by curling up with a stress-inducing book about modern Russia? Just kidding. Here’s ten recent, new, and upcoming books from my good friends Amazon and Paperback Swap.

The Year of the Comet by Sergei Lebedev (2017)

From the critically acclaimed author of Oblivion comes Year of the Comet, a story of a Russian boyhood and coming of age as the Soviet Union is on the brink of collapse. An idyllic childhood takes a sinister turn. Rumors of a serial killer haunt the neighborhood, families pack up and leave town without a word of warning, and the country begins to unravel. Policemen stand by as protesters overtake the streets, knowing that the once awe-inspiring symbols of power they wear on their helmets have become devoid of meaning. Lebedev depicts a vast empire coming apart at the seams, transforming a very public moment into something tender and personal, and writes with stunning beauty and shattering insight about childhood and the growing consciousness of a boy in the world.

Human Rights in Russia: Citizens and the State from Perestroika to Putin by Mary McAuley (2016)

Today Russia and human rights are both high on the international agenda. Since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, domestic developments-from the prosecution of Pussy Riot to the release of Khodorkovsky and Russia’s global role, especially in relation to Ukraine, have captured the attention of the world. The role of human rights activism inside Russia is, therefore, coming under ever greater international scrutiny. Since 1991, when the Russian Federation became an independent state, hundreds of organizations have been created to champion human rights causes, with varying strategies, and successes. The response of the authorities has ranged from being supportive, or indifferent, to openly hostile. Based on archival research and practical experience working in the community, Mark McAuley provides a clear and comprehensive analysis of the progress made by human rights organizations in Russia-and the challenges which will confront them in the future.

Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia by Thane Gustafson (2017)

The Russian oil industry—which vies with Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, providing nearly 12 percent of the global supply—is facing mounting problems that could send shock waves through the Russian economy and worldwide. Wheel of Fortune provides an authoritative account of this vital industry from the last years of communism to its uncertain future. Tracking the interdependence among Russia’s oil industry, politics, and economy, Thane Gustafson shows how the stakes extend beyond international energy security to include the potential threat of a destabilized Russia.
Gustafson, a leading consultant and analyst of the politics of energy in the former Soviet Union, draws on interviews with key players over the course of two decades to provide a detailed history of the oil industry’s evolution since the breakup of the Soviet Union. At its center is the complex and fraught relationship between the oil industry and the state, which loosened its grip under Yeltsin only to tighten it again under Putin. As oil becomes harder to find and more expensive to produce and deliver, Gustafson warns, Russia’s growing dependence on revenue from oil exports, along with its inefficient and often-corrupt management of the industry, is unsustainable.
A rich but troubled Soviet legacy, the conflicting ambitions of politicians and industry oligarchs, and the excesses of capitalism Russian-style threaten to lead Russia to an impasse. Involving the oil industry in the country’s modernization agenda and remaking its relationship to the state, Gustafson argues, is Russia’s best path toward a stable economy and a safer world.

Russia and the Arctic: Environment, Identity and Foreign Policy (2016)

The world is currently witnessing an ‘Arctic Scramble’―as the major powers compete to demarcate and occupy Arctic territory. The region is known to be home to large gas and oil reserves, and its position at the top of the globe holds significant trading and military advantages. Yet the territorial boundaries of the region remain ill-defined and Russia, under the increasingly bold foreign policy of Vladimir Putin, has emerged as a forceful power in the region. Geir Hønneland investigates the political contexts and international tensions surrounding Russia’s actions, focusing especially on the disputes which have emerged in the Barents Sea―where European and Russian interests compete directly. Skillfully delineating Russian policy in the region, and analyzing the mineral and environmental consequences of the recent treaty agreements, Russia and the Arctic is a crucial addition to our understanding of contemporary International Relations concerning the Polar North.

Russia’s Dead End: An Insider’s Testimony from Gorbachev to Putin by Alexey Kovalev (2017)

Elite-level Soviet politics, privileged access to state secrets, knowledge about machinations inside the Kremlin—such is the environment in which Andreï A. Kovalev lived and worked. In this memoir of his time as a successful diplomat serving in various key capacities and as a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s staff, Kovalev reveals hard truths about his country as only a perceptive witness can do. In Russia’s Dead End Kovalev shares his intimate knowledge of political activities behind the scenes at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kremlin before and after the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991, including the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Kovalev analyzes Soviet efforts to comply with international human-rights obligations, the machinations of the KGB, and the link between corrupt oligarchs and state officials. He documents the fall of the USSR, the post-Soviet explosion of state terrorism and propaganda, and offers a nuanced historical explanation of the roots of Russia’s contemporary crisis under Vladimir Putin. This insider’s memoir provides a penetrating analysis of late-Soviet and post-Soviet Russian politics that is pungent, pointed, witty, and accessible. It assesses the current dangerous status of Russian politics and society while illuminating the path to a more just and democratic future.

Underground Petersburg: Radical Populism, Urban Space, and the Tactics of Subversion in Reform-Era Russia by Christopher Ely (2016)

Although the radical populist movement that arose in Russia during the reign of Tsar Alexander II has been well documented, this important study opens with questions that haven’t yet been addressed: How did Russian radical populists manage to carry out a three-year campaign of revolutionary violence, killing or wounding scores of people, including top government officials, and eventually taking the life of the tsar himself? And how did this all occur under the noses of the tsar’s political police, who deployed vast resources and huge numbers of officials in an exhaustive effort to stop the killing?

In Underground Petersburg, Christopher Ely argues that the most powerful weapon of populist terrorism was the revolutionary underground it created. Attempts to convey populist ideals in the public sphere met with resistance at every turn. When methods such as propaganda campaigns and street demonstrations failed, populists created a sophisticated urban underground. Linked to the newly discovered weapon of terrorist violence, this base of operations allowed them to live undetected in the midst of the city, produce their own weaponry, and attempt to ignite an insurrection through violent attacks—putting terrorism on the map as a technique of political rebellion.

Accessible to non-specialists, this insightful study reinterprets radical populism, clarifying its crucial place in Russian history and elucidating its contribution to the history of terrorism. Underground Petersburg will appeal to scholars and students of Russia, as well as those interested in terrorism and insurrectionary movements, urban studies, and the sociology of subcultures.

Russia: Strategy, Policy and Administration by Irvin Studin (2017)

This book examines how Russia, the world’s most complicated country, is governed. As it resumes its place at the centre of global affairs, the book explores Russia’s overarching strategies, and how it organizes itself (or not) in policy areas ranging from foreign policy and national security to health care, education, immigration, science, sport, agriculture, the environment and criminal justice. The book also discusses the structures and institutions on which Russia relies in order to deliver its goals in these areas of national life, as well as what’s to be done, in policy terms, to improve the country’s performance in its first post-Soviet century. Edited by Irvin Studin, the book includes contributions from a tremendous list of Russia’s leading thinkers and specialists, including Alexei Kudrin, Vladimir Mau, Alexander Auzan, Simon Kordonsky, Fyodor Lukyanov, Ekaterina Shulman, Natalia Zubarevich and Andrey Melville.

Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale (2017)

In April 1917, as the Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication sent shockwaves across war-torn Europe, the future leader of the Bolshevik revolution Vladimir Lenin was far away, exiled in Zurich. When the news reached him, Lenin immediately resolved to return to Petrograd and lead the revolt. But to get there, he would have to cross Germany, which meant accepting help from the deadliest of Russia’s adversaries. Millions of Russians at home were suffering as a result of German aggression, and to accept German aid―or even safe passage―would be to betray his homeland. Germany, for its part, saw an opportunity to further destabilize Russia by allowing Lenin and his small group of revolutionaries to return.

Now, in Lenin on the Train, drawing on a dazzling array of sources and never-before-seen archival material, renowned historian Catherine Merridale provides a riveting, nuanced account of this enormously consequential journey―the train ride that changed the world―as well as the underground conspiracy and subterfuge that went into making it happen. Writing with the same insight and formidable intelligence that distinguished her earlier works, she brings to life a world of counter-espionage and intrigue, wartime desperation, illicit finance, and misguided utopianism.

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd’s now-famous Finland Station, he delivered an explosive address to the impassioned crowds. Simple and extreme, the text of this speech has been compared to such momentous documents as Constantine’s edict of Milan and Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses. It was the moment when the Russian revolution became Soviet, the genesis of a system of tyranny and faith that changed the course of Russia’s history forever and transformed the international political climate.

City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya (2017)

An unsung gem of nineteenth-century Russian literature, City Folk and Country Folk is a seemingly gentle yet devastating satire of Russia’s aristocratic and pseudo-intellectual elites in the 1860s. Translated into English for the first time, the novel weaves an engaging tale of manipulation, infatuation, and female assertiveness that takes place one year after the liberation of the empire’s serfs. Upending Russian literary clichés of female passivity and rural gentry benightedness, Sofia Khvoshchinskaya centers her story on a commonsense, hardworking noblewoman and her self-assured daughter living on their small rural estate. The antithesis of the thoughtful, intellectual, and self-denying young heroines created by Khvoshchinskaya’s male peers, especially Ivan Turgenev, seventeen-year-old Olenka ultimately helps her mother overcome a sense of duty to her “betters” and leads the two to triumph over the urbanites’ financial, amorous, and matrimonial machinations.

Into the Thickening Fog by Andrei Gelasimov (and translated by the amazing Marian Schwartz) (2017)

A French theater agrees to stage the latest work by Filippov—the most prestigious and lucrative opportunity of his infamous career—but first he must sever ties with his longtime collaborator and childhood friend. So the internationally acclaimed Russian director makes a reluctant trip back to his hometown to deliver the news. His journey to the Far North, where the temperature remains dangerous all winter, unexpectedly blurs the distinctions between reality and art for this virtuoso, who prides himself on his ability to create shocking scenes and outrageous situations. And after the city’s power grid goes off-line, the brutal cold just might get the better of him.

The colder it gets, the more wickedly funny Filippov’s boozy exploits, which unravel into an unexpected chain of events—including run-ins with old lovers, meeting a woman who might be his daughter, encounters with the devil, and the unlikely affection of a dog that, like Filippov, is in desperate need of warmth.

J.T.’s note: radically different description from the one on the original Russian book, Холод:

Когда всемирно известный скандальный режиссер Филиппов решает вернуться из Европы на родину, в далекий северный город, он и не подозревает, что на уютном «Боинге» летит прямиком в катастрофу: в городе начались веерные отключения электричества и отопления. Люди гибнут от страшного холода, а те, кому удается выжить, делают это любой ценой.

Изнеженному, потерявшему смысл жизни Филе приходится в срочном порядке пересмотреть свои взгляды на жизнь и совершить подвиг, на который ни он, ни кто-либо вокруг уже и не рассчитывал…

pexels-photo-46274
Source: Pexels.
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