contemporary russian lit / cultural / putin / russian history / russian politics

The coming year in books [long]

Paperback Swap has added more Russia books with expected publication dates in 2017 and beyond!

Variety seems low this year: lots of Stalin (but that’s always been the case), the Romanovs, spy novels, Russian foreign policy, Russia in WWII, and Lenin (well, it is the 100th anniversity of the October Revolution). I tried to include more variety in my list, however.

Inclusion in this list isn’t an endorsement. I put some of the following books here because they are exemplary of current Western discourse on Russia. Or because the book in question’s description sounded almost comical. You decide which ones are which!

The Girl From the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia by Ludmila Petrushevskaya – Feb 7 2017

The prizewinning memoir of one of the world’s great writers, about coming of age and finding her voice amid the hardships of Stalinist Russia

Born across the street from the Kremlin in the opulent Metropol Hotel—the setting of the New York Times bestselling novel A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles—Ludmilla Petrushevskaya grew up in a family of Bolshevik intellectuals who were reduced in the wake of the Russian Revolution to waiting in bread lines. In The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, her prizewinning memoir, she recounts her childhood of extreme deprivation—of wandering the streets like a young Edith Piaf, singing for alms, and living by her wits like Oliver Twist, a diminutive figure far removed from the heights she would attain as an internationally celebrated writer. As she unravels the threads of her itinerant upbringing—of feigned orphandom, of sleeping in freight cars and beneath the dining tables of communal apartments, of the fugitive pleasures of scraps of food—we see, both in her remarkable lack of self-pity and in the two dozen photographs throughout the text, her feral instinct and the crucible in which her gift for giving voice to a nation of survivors was forged.

How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution – Apr 5 2017

It appeared in the PS Russia list, therefore I’m including it here.

Tucked away in Siberia, there are furry, four-legged creatures with wagging tails and floppy ears that are as docile and friendly as any lapdog. But, despite appearances, these are not dogs—they are foxes. They are the result of the most astonishing experiment in breeding ever undertaken—imagine speeding up thousands of years of evolution into a few decades. In 1959, biologists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut set out to do just that, by starting with a few dozen silver foxes from fox farms in the USSR and attempting to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time in order to witness the process of domestication. This is the extraordinary, untold story of this remarkable undertaking.

Most accounts of the natural evolution of wolves place it over a span of about 15,000 years, but within a decade, Belyaev and Trut’s fox breeding experiments had resulted in puppy-like foxes with floppy ears, piebald spots, and curly tails. Along with these physical changes came genetic and behavioral changes, as well. The foxes were bred using selection criteria for tameness, and with each generation, they became increasingly interested in human companionship. Trut has been there the whole time, and has been the lead scientist on this work since Belyaev’s death in 1985, and with Lee Dugatkin, biologist and science writer, she tells the story of the adventure, science, politics, and love behind it all.  In How to Tame a Fox, Dugatkin and Trut take us inside this path-breaking experiment in the midst of the brutal winters of Siberia to reveal how scientific history is made and continues to be made today.

To date, fifty-six generations of foxes have been domesticated, and we continue to learn significant lessons from them about the genetic and behavioral evolution of domesticated animals. How to Tame a Fox offers an incredible tale of scientists at work, while also celebrating the deep attachments that have brought humans and animals together throughout time.

Putin: His Downfall and Russia’s Coming Crash by Richard Lourie – Jul 18 2017

Why is Putin still a mystery? He keeps catching us off-guard because we have no feel for his deeply Soviet background and his KGB psychology. His society is as opaque as he is. Crime, government, business, and the secret police are four different things, but in Putin’s Russia they are almost indistinguishable.

Putin’s Russia will collapse just as Imperial Russia did in 1917 and as Soviet Russia did in 1991. The only questions are when, and how violently, and with how much peril for the world.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – Jan 10 2017

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Mieville – May 9 2017

The renowned fantasy and science fiction writer China Miéville has long been inspired by the ideals of the Russian Revolution and here, on the centenary of the revolution, he provides his own distinctive take on its history.

In February 1917, in the midst of bloody war, Russia was still an autocratic monarchy: nine months later, it became the first socialist state in world history. How did this unimaginable transformation take place? How was a ravaged and backward country, swept up in a desperately unpopular war, rocked by not one but two revolutions?

This is the story of the extraordinary months between those upheavals, in February and October, of the forces and individuals who made 1917 so epochal a year, of their intrigues, negotiations, conflicts and catastrophes. From familiar names like Lenin and Trotsky to their opponents Kornilov and Kerensky; from the byzantine squabbles of urban activists to the remotest villages of a sprawling empire; from the revolutionary railroad Sublime to the ciphers and static of coup by telegram; from grand sweep to forgotten detail.

Historians have debated the revolution for a hundred years, its portents and possibilities: the mass of literature can be daunting. But here is a book for those new to the events, told not only in their historical import but in all their passion and drama and strangeness. Because as well as a political event of profound and ongoing consequence, Miéville reveals the Russian Revolution as a breathtaking story.

Pivot To Asia: Russia’s Foreign Policy Enters the 21st Century by Alexander Lukin – Mar 7 2017

Russia has historically been conditioned to exist within the European cultural tradition. However, its recent pivot to Asia poses a serious question to its cultural identity. How serious is this policy change for Russia and the world? Is the turn to Asia a long-term course or a mere repercussion of the current confrontation with the West? In this volume Alexander Lukin, a prominent scholar in international relations and Asian studies, seeks answers to these and many other questions related to Russia’s foreign policy and its relations with Asia. This collection of Lukin’s articles addresses a number of issues: Russia’s diplomacy and the place of the Asian direction in it, Russian Far East and its potential, the role of Russia on the international scene. This broad-ranging and detailed study will be welcomed by both students and policy makers as the first academic work in English to have such a wide coverage of this topic.

Russia: The Story of War by Gregory Carleton – Apr 24 2017

No nation is a stranger to war, but for Russians war is a central part of who they are. Their “motherland” has been the battlefield where some of the largest armies have clashed, the most savage battles have been fought, the highest death tolls paid. Having prevailed over Mongol hordes and vanquished Napoleon and Hitler, many Russians believe no other nation has sacrificed so much for the world. In Russia: The Story of War Gregory Carleton explores how this belief has produced a myth of exceptionalism that pervades Russian culture and politics and has helped forge a national identity rooted in war.

While outsiders view Russia as an aggressor, Russians themselves see a country surrounded by enemies, poised in a permanent defensive crouch as it fights one invader after another. Time and again, history has called upon Russia to play the savior―of Europe, of Christianity, of civilization itself―and its victories, especially over the Nazis in World War II, have come at immense cost. In this telling, even defeats lose their sting. Isolation becomes a virtuous destiny and the whole of its bloody history a point of pride.

War is the unifying thread of Russia’s national epic, one that transcends its wrenching ideological transformations from the archconservative empire to the radical-totalitarian Soviet Union to the resurgent nationalism of the country today. As Putin’s Russia asserts itself in ever bolder ways, knowing how the story of its war-torn past shapes the present is essential to understanding its self-image and worldview.

The Politics of Eurasianism: Identity, Popular Culture and Russia’s Foreign Policy edited by Mark Bassin – Jan 30 2017

In the course of Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term, many of the doctrines and ideas associated with Eurasianism have moved to the center of public political discourses in Russia. Eurasianism, both Russian and non-Russian, is politically active —influential and contested— in debates about identity, popular culture or foreign policy narratives.

Deploying a variety of theoretical frameworks and perspectives, the essays in this volume work together to shed light on both Eurasianism’s plasticity and contemporary weight, and examine how its tropes and discourses are appropriated, interpreted, modulated and deployed politically, by national groups, oppositional forces (left or right), prominent intellectuals, artists, and last but not least, government elites. In doing so, this collection addresses essential themes and questions currently shaping the Post-Soviet world and beyond.

Dynastic Rule: Mikhail Piotrovsky and the Hermitage by Geraldine Norman – Feb 15 2017

The Hermitage, one of the world-renowned Russian State Museums in St. Petersburg, was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has ever since been a symbol of Russian culture, wealth, and achievement. In the past half century, it has only become more popular, serving as both a connection to Russia’s illustrious past and a reminder of its firm place at the heart of contemporary artistic culture.

This book celebrates the Hermitage through the stories of its two most recent, and most important, directors: the father-and-son team of Boris Borisovich Piotrovsky and Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky. Boris, who served as director from 1964 until his death in 1990, was instrumental in maintaining the museum’s position and strength through the Cold War and into the waning years of communist rule. Since Mikhail took over, in 1992, his stewardship has proven to be similarly effective, and he was recently awarded a contract extension that means he’ll be the director through 2020. A tribute to two men and a unique institution, Dynastic Rule is a stunningly illustrated account of a true international treasure.

Protest in Putin’s Russia by Mischa Gabowitsch – Jan 24 2017

The Russian protests, sparked by the 2011 Duma election, have been widely portrayed as a colourful but inconsequential middle-class rebellion, confined to Moscow and organized by an unpopular opposition. In this sweeping new account of the protests, Mischa Gabowitsch challenges these journalistic clich?s, showing that they stem from wishful thinking and media bias rather than from accurate empirical analysis. Drawing on a rich body of material, he analyses the biggest wave of demonstrations since the end of the Soviet Union, situating them in the context of protest and social movements across Russia as a whole. He also explores the legacy of the protests in the new era after Ukraine?s much larger Maidan protests, the crises in Crimea and the Donbass, and Putin?s ultra-conservative turn.

As the first full-length study of the Russian protests, this book will be of great value to students and scholars of Russia and to anyone interested in contemporary social movements and political protest.

Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union’s WWII Sniper Corps by Lyuba Vinogradova – Apr 4 2017

Beginning in 1942, with the Eastern Front having claimed the lives of several million Soviet soldiers, Stalin’s Red Army began drafting tens of thousands of women, most of them in their teens or early twenties, to defend against the Nazi invasion. Some volunteered, but most were given no choice, in particular about whether to become a sniper or to fill some other combat role. Drawing on original interviews, diaries, and previously unpublished archival material, historian Lyuba Vinogradova has produced an unparalleled quilt of first-person narratives about these women’s lives.

After a few months of brutal training, the female snipers were issued with high-powered rifles and sent to the front. Almost without exception, their first kill came as a great shock, and changed them forever. But as the number of kills grew, many snipers became addicted to their new profession, some to the point of becoming depressed if a “hunt” proved fruitless.

Accounts from the veterans of the female sniper corps include vivid descriptions of the close bonds they formed with their fellow soldiers, but also the many hardships and deprivations they faced: days and days in a trench without enough food, water, or rest, their lives constantly at risk from the enemy and from the cold; burying their friends, most of them yet to leave their teenage years; or the frequent sexual harassment by male officers.

Although many of these young women were killed, often on their first day of combat, the majority returned from the front, only to face the usual constellation of trials with which every war veteran is familiar. Some continued their studies, but most were forced to work, even as they also started families or struggled to adjust to life as single parents. Nearly all of them were still in their early twenties, and despite the physical and mental scars left by the war, they had no time for complaints as the Soviet Union rebuilt following the war.

This fascinating document brings the realities and hardships faced by the Red Army’s female sniper corps to life, shedding light on a little-known aspect of the Soviet Union’s struggles against Hitler’s war machine.

Ukraine in the Crossfire by Chris Kaspar de Ploeg – Feb 1 2017

Ukraine is embroiled in a bloody civil war. Both sides stand accused of collaborating with fascists; of committing war-crimes; of serving foreign interests. This proxy-war between Russia and the West was accompanied by a fierce information war. This book separates fact from fiction with extensive and reliable documentation. While remaining critical of Russia and the Donbass rebellion, De Ploeg demonstrates that many of the recent disasters can be traced to Ukrainian ultranationalists, pro-western political elites and their European and North-American backers.

This book tackles the ultranationalist violence during and after the EuroMaidan movement, and documents how many of these groups are heirs to former Nazi-collaborators. It shows how the Ukrainian state has seized on the ultranationalist war-rhetoric to serve its own agenda, clamping down on civil liberties on a scale unprecedented since Ukrainian independence. De Ploeg argues that Kiev itself has been the biggest obstacle to peace in Donbass, with multiple leaks suggesting that Washington is using its financial leverage to push a pro-war line in Ukraine. With the nation’s eyes turned towards Russia, the EU and IMF have successfully pressured Ukraine into adopting far-reaching austerity programs, while oligarchic looting of state assets and massive tax-avoidance facilitated by western states continue unabated. He shows that the pro-Western and pro-Russian camps are often similar: neoliberal, authoritarian, nationalist and heavily dependent on foreign support. A far cry from civilizational or ideological clashes, De Ploeg argues that the current tensions flow from NATO´s military dominance and aggressive posture, both globally and within post-soviet space, where Russia seeks to defend the status-quo.

Packed with shocking facts; deftly moving from the local to the international, from the historical to the recent; De Ploeg connects the dots, consistently offering the necessary context for understanding the multiple faces of imperialism within Ukraine and beyond. Written in an accessible language, Ukraine in the Crossfire offers a truly comprehensive and independent narrative of the Ukrainian conflict.

Russia at War, 1941-1945: A History by Alexander Werth – Mar 14 2017

In 1941, Russian-born British journalist Alexander Werth observed the unfolding of the Soviet-German conflict with his own eyes. What followed was the widely acclaimed book, Russia at War, first printed in 1964. At once a history of facts, a collection of interviews, and a document of the human condition, Russia at War is a stunning, modern classic that chronicles the savagery and struggles on Russian soil during the most incredible military conflict in modern history.

As a behind-the-scenes eyewitness to the pivotal, shattering events as they occurred, Werth chronicles with vivid detail the hardships of everyday citizens, massive military operations, and the political movements toward diplomacy as the world tried to reckon with what they had created. Despite its sheer historical scope, Werth tells the story of a country at war in startlingly human terms, drawing from his daily interviews and conversations with generals, soldiers, peasants, and other working class civilians. The result is a unique and expansive work with immeasurable breadth and depth, built on lucid and engaging prose, that captures every aspect of a terrible moment in human history.

Now newly updated with a foreword by Soviet historian Nicolas Werth, the son of Alexander Werth, this new edition of Russia at War continues to be indispensable World War II journalism and the definitive historical authority on the Soviet-German war.

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One thought on “The coming year in books [long]

  1. Re:”Russian Revolution”.

    There were no such a thing. Really. It seems the West managed to delude itself into forgetting that there were 2 Revolutions in 1917 – one in February and another one in October. They were completely different. I honestly, don’t know, which of the two they think to be more “Russian”.

    The Westerners aso seem to be willingly ingonrant of the Provisional Government which came to power in the February – and which toppled the monarchy in Russia, not the “Bloody Bolsheviks”. They are willfully ignorant of the hows, whens and wheres of the Provisional Government’s incompetence which lead to its losing the legitimacy and the success of the October Revolution. Instead we have:

    “Because as well as a political event of profound and ongoing consequence, Miéville reveals the Russian Revolution as a breathtaking story.”

    -100 points already. Anyone incapable of ditching the “Russian Revolution” meme is either not a historian, or just a shitty one.

    “n Russia: The Story of War Gregory Carleton explores how this belief has produced a myth of exceptionalism that pervades Russian culture and politics and has helped forge a national identity rooted in war.”

    Bullshit and projection. This btw goes to the rest of the books.

    “Drawing on a rich body of material, he analyses the biggest wave of demonstrations since the end of the Soviet Union…”

    This is a lie and self-perpetuating of the Western-born Myth. What about mass protests all across Russia during the blessed 90s? What about the one and only real and massive protest during Putin’s rule – the 2004-05 protests against the monetisation of the monetization of benefits for the pensioners and other people viable for it? In Moscow oblast alone there were 70 000 protesters
    – why no Westie journo is recalling that? Oh, right – the protesters were not Adorable pro-Western urbanites! And this all happened before the advent of the social media so – it doesn’t count at all. And that these protests lasted longer than the “White Ribbons” of Bolotnaya – this is ugly and unconvenient truth.

    “Beginning in 1942, with the Eastern Front having claimed the lives of several million Soviet soldiers, Stalin’s Red Army began drafting tens of thousands of women, most of them in their teens or early twenties, to defend against the Nazi invasion. “

    Bullshit again. Women were not drafted – all of them came as volunteers.

    Liked by 1 person

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