Boris Strugatsky (April 14, 1933 – November 19, 2012)
Vladimir Putin and Russia’s liberal opposition who accuse him of growing authoritarianism have came together to mourn the death of Boris Strugatsky, a science fiction author famous for novels critical of the totalitarian Soviet system.
Strugatsky died in St Petersburg on Monday, aged 79, his foundation said. Media reports said he had been hospitalised with an illness.
Strugatsky, along with his brother Arkady, who died in 1991, wrote many novels and short stories critical of Soviet authoritarianism. When they began writing in the 1950s they were able to evade censors by placing subtle criticism in the context of distant planets and universes. That changed as time went on and they faced state censorship.
…Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, wrote on Twitter that Strugatsky was “a great writer and thinker. An irreplaceable loss to Russian and world literature.”
The Strugatskys’ writings received a fresh wind of popularity in Russia earlier this year, as the growing opposition to Putin drew parallels between the dark worlds the authors depicted and modern Russia.
Dmitry Bykov, a popular poet, critic and opposition activist, wrote: “He was an absolute, pure genius. With his departure, everything has become darker and more airless.”
“Successive generations of Russian intellectuals were raised on the Strugatskys,” said Muireann Maguire, a fellow at Oxford University. “Their books can be read with a certain pair of spectacles on as political commentaries on Soviet society or indeed any repressive society.”
(From the Guardian.)
(And h/t to yokooislove for the topic request.)
Estonian books from ’70s and ’80s.
From the aptly named (and sadly apparently dead) estonianbooks tumblr.
What even is Transylvania anyway?
Well, it’s not the imaginary homeland of vampires, that’s for sure.
Transylvania is a historical region in Romania. (It’s the light yellow region in the map up there.) Its name means “on the far side of the forest”, derived from the Latin trans, meaning “beyond” and sylvanus, which means “forest”. It has a long and interesting history, having changed hands between various empires and nations over the years. These days it is primarily ethnically Romanian, with a large ethnic Hungarian minority. It’s famous for its beautiful scenery and picturesque architecture.
So why is it associated with vampires? Because it is the setting of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel Dracula. The character of Dracula was based on a real person, Vlad III, who was almost certainly not a vampire, but is a Romanian folk hero, remembered for his efforts in fighting off the Ottomans. (Okay, and also for impaling a lot of people. But he still wasn’t a vampire!)
— from Chaim Grade’s “Elegy for the Soviet Yiddish Writers”
I weep for you with all the letters of the alphabet
that made your hopeful songs.
60 years ago on August 12, 1952, Stalin ordered the execution of 13 Soviet Jews, many of them Yiddish writers, poets, critics, and thinkers, on false charges of treason and espionage. The event is referred to as the Night of the Murdered Poets and regarded by some as the successful destruction of post-war Yiddish literature and culture in the Soviet Union.
- Peretz Markish (1895–1952), Yiddish poet, co-founder the School of Writers, a Yiddish literary school in Soviet Russia
- David Hofstein (1889–1952), Yiddish poet
- Itzik Fefer (1900–1952), Yiddish poet, informer for the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Leib Kvitko (1890–1952), Yiddish poet and children’s writer
- David Bergelson (1884–1952), distinguished novelist
- Solomon Lozovsky (1878–1952), Director of Soviet Information Bureau, Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs, vigorously denounced accusations against himself and others
- Boris Shimeliovich (1892–1952), Medical Director of the Botkin Clinical Hospital, Moscow
- Benjamin Zuskin (1899–1952), assistant to and successor of Solomon Mikhoels as director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater
- Joseph Yuzefovich (1890–1952), researcher at the Institute of History, Soviet Academy of Sciences, trade union leader
- Leon Talmy (1893–1952), translator, journalist, former member of the Communist Party USA
- Ilya Vatenberg (1887–1952), translator and editor of Eynikeyt, newspaper of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee; Labor Zionist leader in Austria and U.S. before returning to the USSR in 1933
- Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya (1901–1952), wife of Ilya Vatenburg, translator at JAC.
- Emilia Teumin (1905–1952), deputy editor of the Diplomatic Dictionary; editor, International Division, Soviet Information Bureau
- Solomon Bregman (1895–1953), Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Fell into a coma after denouncing the trial and died in prison five months after the executions.
- Lina Stern (or Shtern) (1875–1968), the first female academician in the USSR and is best known for her pioneering work on blood–brain barrier. She was the only survivor out of the fifteen defendants.
Some who were either directly or indirectly connected to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee at the time were also arrested in the years surrounding the trial. Although Solomon Mikhoels was not arrested, his death was ordered by Stalin in 1948. Der Nister, another Yiddish writer, was arrested in 1949, and died in a labor camp in 1950. Literary critic Yitzhak Nusinov died in prison and journalists Shmuel Persov and Miriam Zheleznova were shot – all in 1950.
This weekend’s posts will commemorate the atrocities with history, photographs, poetry, audio recordings, and more.
Happy birthday to Mikhail Bulgakov, born May 15, 1891!
I read The Master and Margarita a few years ago and found it extremely confusing. After I had finished, I realized that my copy (which was ancient and had been purchased in a used bookstore) was translated from a censored version of the novel. I have meant to read the uncensored version ever since, but haven’t gotten around to it so far.
Have you read any Bulgakov?
A Dozen Writers Put Down Their Pens to Prove the Might of a March
“No one knew quite what to expect on Sunday. But when the 12 writers left Pushkin Square at lunchtime, they were trailed by a crowd that swelled to an estimated 10,000 people, stopping traffic and filling boulevards for 1.2 miles. Many wore the white ribbons that are a symbol of opposition to Mr. Putin’s government. The police did not interfere, although the organizers had not received a permit to march.”
Photo by Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times
This whole article reads like something from an absurdist novel.
Irina Yasina, one of the action’s organizers, said events like the one on Sunday confronted the government with a new and vexing dilemma because, as she put it, “writers are moral people, and the demand for morality is huge.”
“Moral people came out, and they don’t know what to do with this,” Ms. Yasina said. “They know what to do with Udaltsov — force against force. They know what to do with Navalny — force against force. They don’t know what to do with civic protest. They won’t be able to come up with anything. It’s impossible.”
Behind the Iron Curtain, Shakespeare’s plays were a way to send secret messages about Soviet society to theatre audiences. Now a Lithuanian staging of Hamlet - designed to make Stalin, who hated the play, turn in his grave - will be performed in the UK. Why do these 400-year-old plays resonate in the former Eastern Bloc?
When Lithuania’s biggest rock star, Andrius Mamontovas, was offered the role of Hamlet in 1996, he was rather surprised, but agreed to have a go. He has now played the prince for 15 years, and will soon perform the role in London as part of the UK’s cultural festival to mark the Olympics…
What has kept him going is Eimuntas Nekrosius, one of Europe’s most renowned theatre directors, and the special prestige Shakespeare holds in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
In Soviet-era Lithuania, there were productions of Shakespeare for which people queued through the night for tickets. Shakespeare was culture with official approval, but as one of the few alternatives to tales about earnest Soviet heroes, it was also a way for theatre directors to symbolically address forbidden issues. Going to the theatre had an excitement it perhaps lacks nowadays, says Mamontovas.
“I miss those secret messages… there were always little secret messages from the artist to the audience. But there’s no need for that now because you can say what you want openly - it’s more entertainment now.”
Prague, in Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle. Published in 1493, it is one of the best-preserved early printed books, and one of the first printed books to integrate text and illustrations.
I believe that that’s Prague Castle in the back.
If you’d like to see more of the Nuremberg Chronicle, the entire book has been digitzed.