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Strange Soviet Practices

ISBN 9785717200684
224 pages, illustrations by Vadim Sidur

 

Sample writing Alexander Pokrovsky Sub, Sub, Sub...

This collection contains answers to the questions most often asked by people in the West about the incomprehensible ways of the artificial and inhuman Soviet system. How was it possible that an entire country could live in mute fear? Why did Soviet intellectuals denounce each other and conspire with the authorities to brainwash ordinary people. Why did submarines sink and nuclear power stations explode in the Soviet Union?
Set in 1937, Ilya Zverev's "Sedov's Defense" is based on a real story involving a celebrated lawyer who managed to save four innocent people from death only to learn that several dozen others implicated in the case had been executed as a result of the acquittal.
No one has ever revealed the psychology of Soviet fear with such mercilessness - towards the system and himself - as Boris Yampolsky. In his "Confession" about his fellow writers paralyzed by fear, we see that the GULAG existed not only on the islands of an archipelago, but in people's souls.
The transcript of Platonov's trial at the All-Russian Union of Soviet Writers reads as a scene from Orwell. Platonov's self-flagellation in front of a bunch of mediocrities whose names are long forgotten is chilling evidence of the helplessness of art in conditions of all-round terror.
Elena Glinka's story shows what perfectly innocent people were afraid of and what made them submissive.
Lev Rubinstein's sardonic portrayal of a communal apartment is a revealing illustration of this classic Soviet phenomenon.
A former naval officer, Alexander Pokrovsky depicts the surreal and appallingly precarious world of a Soviet atomic submarine in "Subs, Subs, Subs..."
Vladimir Kuzemko's "After the Blast", written in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, is a satirical and frighteningly accurate account of the causes of the explosion and the consequences.

See also Andrei Platonov's The Portable Platonov; Boris Yampolsky's A Crowded Place, The Old Arbat; Elena Glinka's story in Glas 3; Lev Rubinstein's Here I Am.


Ilya Zverev (1926-1966) was the pen name of Izold Judovich Zamdberg who had to change his Jewish name for a Russian-sounding one, something that many people did in the times of state-supported anti-Semitism. He made a name for himself as a writer during the first political thaw: in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet he was very much a man of his times and most of his stories will hardly appeal to the modern reader. However, some of them are striking evidence by a contemporary witness who managed to describe his dangerous times with the maximum veracity with which he could get away. One of his best stories, "Sedov's Defence" is based on real facts and remains both accessible and striking to this day. In the early 1990s it was made into a prize-winning film of the same name.

Boris Yampolsky (1912-1972) was a prolific novelist and journalist in the late 1950s and 1960s, but his major works, including his magnum opus, the novel Rezhimnaya Ulitsa (see the abridged version of the novel in Glas 9: The Scared Generation), were banned for publication. Yampolsky's hero is not surprised to find himself being followed and thus doomed to imminent arrest. He saw it happen to other, equally innocent people, each of whom was sure his own case was a mistake and that the others in his position really were "enemies of the people". In the Stalin era of witch-hunts and political intolerance, he is paralysed by uncontrollable fear. Yet at some point his hopelessness produces an inner freedom that gives the hunted man the strength to live on.

Lev Rubinstein (b.1947) is famous for his inimitable style as a poet and social commentary essayist. As a founder and leader of Moscow Conceptualism, Rubinstein turned international Conceptualism of the 1960s and 1970s into a major Russian literary movement. Needless to say, his unorthodox writings were not acceptable for the official press, but circulated widely in samizdat. (See Here I Am: Performance Poems, by Lev Rubinstein, translated by Joanne Turnbull, Glas 27.)

Alexander Pokrovsky's satirical stories about the trials and trivialities of life on an atomic submarine are both funny and frightening. Based on the author's 15 years as an officer in the navy, they convince you of the sorry state of these underwater vehicles that sometimes turn into common graves. Pokrovsky, born in 1952, began writing to relieve the boredom of night watches. He has published a number of widely acclaimed books, based on naval experiences which he "can't get out of his system".

Vladimir Kuzemko (b. 1957) lives in Dniepropetrovsk in the Ukraine where he graduated from the city university majoring in history. After several years' employment at a metal factory he now works as a journalist. In 1999 he published his best-selling book Cops in Law about the hidden dealings of a local police station, based on the confessions of a policeman-friend. It was followed by Part Two in 2000.

Vadim Sidur (1924-1986), world-famous sculptor and graphic artist. His sculptures adorn many cities around the world. Sidur saw action in World War II and was badly wounded. His war experiences and his hungry childhood inspired several series of striking sculptures such as "Disabled", "The Blind", "Iron Prophets", and "Coffin Art" of which he was particularly proud. Later he created his equally famous erotic series of sculptures and drawings: "Man and Woman", "Motherhood", "My Harem", etc. He also left a collection of poetry and a book of fragmented prose constituting a portrait of his times. A museum of his works was opened in 1988 in Moscow. Unrecognized in Russia during his lifetime he made a living as a book designer and gravestone sculptor. His drawings on the cover and half-titles show ordinary Soviet people of his time - it was those people with whose hands both good and evil deeds were committed.