Thursday, November 24, 2016

Praised Books on Russia (2016)

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Books pertaining to Russia cited in "Books of the Year 2016" (The Times Literary Supplement)


In July and August 1914, fewer than fifty individuals . . . made the decisions that took their countries to war”, Dominic Lieven writes in Towards the Flame: Empire, war and the end of Tsarist Russia (Penguin). Lieven sets these tragic decisions in their global context. His work in Russian diplomatic archives opens new perspectives on the devastating wars, revolutions and tyrannies of the twentieth century, and on dangers that now face the world in this new era of geopolitical competition. “Miscalculation and brinkmanship by key decision makers . . . remain great dangers to peace”, he warns at the end. Also in paperback this year is The Silk Roads: A new history of the world (Bloomsbury), in which Peter Frankopan sets out across a vast geopolitical landscape, looking for the ancient and modern crossroads of civilization. These magisterial works are both great reads, and reveal how much is at stake for world order in Ukraine and Syria.

Alexander Etkind’s remarkable new book Warped Mourning: Stories of the undead in the land of the unburied, published originally in English by Stanford University Press, has finally appeared to great acclaim in Russia this year. Etkind argues that un­resolved traumas of Stalinism produced a culture replete with spectres and uncanny monsters. In her monumental novel Appendix (NLO, Moscow), Alexandra Petrova, an émigré Russian poet and translator, who moved to Italy in 1998, has managed to exorcize the traumas of her Soviet past by mingling them lyrically with those of idiosyncratic characters on the outskirts of life in a contemporary Rome unknown to foreign visitors. Julia Kissina, a Kiev-born conceptual artist, who has been living in Berlin since 1990, has created a novelistic bestseller in Germany Elephantinas Moskauer Jahre (Suhrkamp) – a hilarious auto­biographical tale of cavorting with Moscow conceptualist circles in the 1980s.

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