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Strange Soviet Practices

Ilya Zverev, Sedov’s Defense.
Elena Glinka, Kolyma Streetcar, The Hold.
Auto-da-fe of Andrei Platonov.
(with Notes by Natalia Korniyenko)
Lev Razgon, The President’s Wife.
Alexander Selin, Geological Surveillance, Alpatovka.
Communal Living.
drawings by Vadim Sidur.

ISBN 9785717201322
see also the original collection in Glas 34

This collection addresses the question, 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 and blind obedience?
Set in 1937, Ilya Zverev’s “Sedov’s Defense” is based on a real incident involving a celebrated lawyer who managed to save four innocent people from death only to learn later that several dozen others implicated in the case had been executed as a result of the acquittal.
The transcript of Platonov’s trial at the Soviet Writers Union reads as a scene from Orwell. Platonov’s self-flagellation in front of a bunch of mediocrities, whose names have long been forgotten, is chilling evidence of the helplessness of art in conditions of all-round terror which made people submissive.
Elena Glinka’s memoir shows what perfectly innocent people had to endure in the camps, including Kolyma Trains, a euphemism for gang rapes.
Lev Razgon’s first-hand description of life in the labor camp, where he meets some former Soviet bigwigs, shows that no one was immune from persecution under Soviets.
Alexander Selin takes a sardonic view of the Soviet past, also seeing its practices in the present.
And the section on “communal living” illustrates a phenomenon which is hard to understand for people in the West.

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.

Elena Glinka (1926-2003) was born in Novorossiisk, a Black Sea port that was occupied by the Germans at the start of the war. Her family found itself trapped on enemy-occupied territory, an accident later equated with treason. Glinka’s father, a sea captain, was sentenced to ten years of hard labour and died in the camps. In 1949, Glinka enrolled in the Leningrad Shipbuilding College but was soon “unmasked as a traitor” and sentenced to 25 years of hard labour. She was released and rehabilitated in 1956. She finished college and went to work as an engineer. She started writing down her memories in the 1960s describing, among other horrors, the sanctioned gang rapes known as “Kolyma streetcars”. Her memoirs were rejected by magazines which made her say: “My whole life has been destroyed and no one even wants to listen!” For all the revelations about Stalin’s Gulag, the subject of violence against women remains unpopular in Russia to this day.

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.
See also Andrei Platonov's The Portable Platonov

Lev Razgon (1908-1999) grew up in Belarus. Graduate of the History Department of Moscow University he was active as a children's writer and critic before he was arrested in 1938 on a trumped-up charge, like millions of other innocent Russians in the 1930s and 40s. He was released in 1956 and immediately resumed his literary work writing fictionalized documentary novels about scientists and scholars as well as books for children.
His most famous book, True Stories is a collection of memoirs about fellow inmates from the labour camps. Despite the grim subject the book radiates love of life and a keen interest in people. It was reprinted several times in Russia and also published in the USA, UK, France, Greece, and Germany.

Alexander Selin (1962-2014), grew up in a little town of Volzhsk on the Volga. He graduated from the Moscow Institute of Engineering Physics and worked as a physicist for eight years, leaving this profession with a number of discoveries to his credit. At the same time he was writing plays, film scripts, and humorous short stories. His plays are widely produced in Russia. A collection of his stories was published in English by Glas, and his novel Videountermenschen was published in French by L’Aube.

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", "he 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 show ordinary Soviet people of his time — it was those people with whose hands both good and evil deeds were committed.