logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Russia
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-07-18 05:58
Reading progress update: I've read 23 out of 512 pages.
The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volume 1: The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930 - Robert William Davies

I'm finding that the more history I read, the more I prefer works that draw interesting points from their analysis than those which relate a mass of details. Yet while the first volume of Davies's book is proving so far to be in the second category, I'm finding it to be a fascinating read. He begins the book by detailing the state of the agricultural economy in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, which had recovered from the effects of war, revolution, and civil war but was still underperforming due to a lack of mechanization and outdated agricultural techniques. I didn't know much about this, which is probably why I'm enjoying it as much as I am. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-07-02 19:00
An inside look into the early life and creative process of Marc Chagall that goes well beyond a standard biography.
The White Crucifixion : A novel about Marc Chagall - Michael Dean

I received an ARC copy of this novel from the publisher, and I freely chose to review it.

Although I am not sure I would say I’m a big fan of Chagall's paintings, I’ve always been intrigued by them and drawn to them, even when I didn’t know much about the author or what was behind them. I’ve seen several exhibitions of his work and have also visited the wonderful Chagall National Museum in Nice, France (I recommend it to anybody wishing to learn more about the painter and his works, particularly those with a religious focus). When I was offered the opportunity to read this novel, written by an author with a particular affinity for the art-world, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

The book is not a full biography. It follows Marc Chagall (born Moyshe Shagal) from his birth in the pre-revolutionary Russian town of Vitebsk (now in Belarus) until he paints the White Crucifixion of the title. We accompany Chagall through his childhood (hard and difficult conditions, but not for lack of affection or care), his early studies and his interactions with his peers (many of whom became well-known artists in their own right), his love story with Bella (fraught as it was at times), his first stay in Paris, in the Hive (a fabulous-sounding place, and a glorious and chaotic Petri dish where many great artists, especially from Jewish origin, lived and created), his return to Russia and his encounter with the Russian revolution (full of hopes and ideals for a better future at first, hopes and ideals that are soon trashed by the brutality of the new regime), and finally his escape and return to France.

Throughout it all, we learn about his passion for painting, his creative self-assurance and fascination for Jewish life and traditions,  his peculiar creative methods and routine (he wears makeup to paint and prefers to paint at night), his visitations by the prophet Elijah and how that is reflected in his paintings, his pettiness and jealousy (he is forever suspicious of other pupils and fellow painters, of his wife and her friends), and how he can be truly oblivious to practical matters and always depends on others to manage the everyday details of life (like food, money, etc.). He is surrounded by tragedy and disaster (from the death of his young sister to the many deaths caused by the destruction of Vitebsk at the hands of the revolutionaries) although he is lucky in comparison to many of his contemporaries, and lived to a very ripe old age.

The book is a fictionalization of the early years of Marc Chagall’s life (with a very brief mention of his end), but it is backed up by a good deal of research that is seamlessly threaded into the story. We read about the art movements of the time and Chagall’s opinion of them, about other famous painters (I love the portrayal of Modigliani, a favourite among all his peers), about the historical events of the time, all from a unique perspective, that of the self-absorbed Chagall. He is not a particularly sympathetic character. Despite his protestations of love, he is more interested in painting than in his wife and daughter, although he states that he feels guilty for some of the tragedies that happen to those around him, he pays little heed to them all and does not change his selfish behaviour, and he is far from modest (he feels he has nothing to learn from anybody, is clearly superior to most, if not all, his colleagues and he often talks about how attractive he is). He is unashamed and unapologetic, as he would have to be to succeed in the circumstances he had to live through. But, no matter what we might feel about the man, the book excels at explaining the genesis of some of his best-known early paintings, and all readers will leave with a better understanding of the man and his art.

The writing combines the first person narrative with the historical detail and loving descriptions of places and people, giving Chagall a unique and distinctive voice and turning him into a real person, with defects and qualities, with his pettiness and his peculiar sense of humour. Although we might not like him or fully understand him, we get to walk in his shoes and to share in his sense of wonder and in his urgency to create.

I wanted to share some quotations from the book, so you can get some sense of the style and decide if it suits your taste:

When I work, I feel as if my father and my mother are peering over my shoulder — and behind them Jews, millions of vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago. They are all in my paintings.

Here he talks about Modigliani and one of his lovers, Beatrice Hastings:

They had some of the most erudite fights in Paris. They used to fight in verse. He would yell Dante at her. She would scream back Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Milton, who Modi especially detested.

Modi once said ‘The human face is the supreme creation of nature. Paint it and you paint life.’

All my life I have blamed myself for whatever it was I was doing, but all my life I have gone on doing it.

So much for the revolution freeing the Jews from oppression. They had ended the ghettos, the Pales of Settlement, but the ghettos had at least afforded us a protective fence, of sorts, to huddle behind. Now we were like clucking chickens out in the open, waiting to be picked off one by one for counter-revolutionary activity.

As other reviewers have noted, the book will be enjoyed more fully if readers can access images of Chagall’s paintings and be able to check them as they are discussed. I only had access to the e-book version and I don’t know if the paper copies contain illustrations, but it would enhance the experience.

I recommend the book to art lovers, fans of Marc Chagall and painters of the period, people interested in that historical period, studious of the Russian Revolution interested in a different perspective, and people intrigued by Jewish life in pre- and early-revolutionary Russia. I have read great reviews about the author’s book on another painter, Hogarth, and I’ll be keeping track of his new books.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-06-28 23:46
I sense a conspiracy . . .
The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volume 2: The Soviet Collective Farm 1929-1930 - Robert W. Davies

For the past month I've been trying to accumulate the "Industrialisation of Soviet Agriculture" series. It hasn't been easy, as used copies of the later volumes start at $150. Still, I managed to find copies of the first and fourth volumes at reasonable prices, and both now rest snugly on my shelves.

 

But for some reason, the second volume eludes me.

 

This isn't because copies aren't listed for sale, or even that they are not reasonably priced. At the end of last month I found a seller offering a copy for $20, yet while I placed the order successfully apparently it was lost in the mail — this despite the fact that I had ordered another book from the same seller earlier that same day which managed to arrive successfully.

 

Last week I gave up on ever receiving the initial copy I ordered, and decided to acquire another copy that I found online. Though it was cheaper, I had passed on it the first time around because it was advertised as smelling of tobacco smoke. Deciding that an airing would probably fix it, I placed an order for the book.

 

Today, my package arrived in the mail. Inside was a copy . . . of the first volume.

 

Over the years I've purchased enough books online from used booksellers to expect the occasional mistake. When two happen with the same book, though, I start to wonder if there is a conspiracy to stop me from owning this book. Not that I will let it, of course — it will be mine!

Like Reblog Comment
review 2018-06-19 01:43
We -- a prototypical dystopian novel
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin,Clarence Brown

D-503, a true believer in the authoritarian future he finds himself in, has his faith in the structures of society shaken by love. <-- a quick and dirty recap of We, D-503's diary.

The world-building in these older dystopias is very different from today's, but you can draw a straight line from We (the first novel banned by Soviet censors in 1921) to a TV show I've only seen advertised in recent years about a dome over civilization, and of course everything in between. (The dome in We is described only as something between their society and what lies outside, and it's there so people aren't soiled by nature, not because people have ruined nature.)

 

D-503 sets out in his diary to show an unknown reader how glorious his mathematically logical "unfreedom" is. How happiness can only be found with the help of state doctrine, one that says freedom will lead to complete havoc and therefore ruin the beautiful order in their society, where even sex is organized by the state - lest the mess of personal, private love ruin everything.

 

It's easy to see how this could be attractive in the abstract, and how absurdly comical it is too. Can a perfect, ordered collective actually make someone happy? Can there be a perfectly ordered collective? The knowing me says of course not, but people always want to order things, to make them less complicated and more logical. Humanity is messy, and D-503 learns this when he falls in unsanctioned lust and love. Love is anarchy, both in the book and when I really think about it (which makes my brain hurt.) Love is the most illogical, but biologically imperative, thing humans do.

 

Zamyatin doesn't rail against the state as much as I expected. Instead he reveals through increasingly confused and unsure diary entries what it means to be an individual, one who exists not just as a cog in a wheel, but one who exists also for his own purposes, with his own ideals.

 

This is a deep work that can be seen on a variety of levels, but I found it most gratifying as a rumination on how complication and chaos are vital to living a full, satisfying life, despite how much we'd all like it to be otherwise with our lists and rules. To truly live, must we allow for some disorder, some illogic, some freedom?

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-06-16 11:51
GOATnaldo - It was men against God: "Portugal vs. Spain in Russian World Cup"

 

I know what I wrote before on this same blog, but now I'm going to have to debate the diagnostic labeling of Ronaldo as narcissist. Nothing of the kind I’m Afraid - yes, impossibly good looking, yes there is the Ronaldo shrine in Madeira, indeed there are the pirouettes and the swashbuckling, muscle rippling equivalent of Colin Firth as Me Darcy, shirtless, sweaty and gleaming in the sun...but: to be a narcissist you have to have an emptiness inside where the soul sits - you got to have a lack of empathy for your comrades, family, lovers, children, nation- you have to have grandiose expectations of yourself that are at odds with reality...that is not the man we speak of. If you doubt it replay the final vs France in Euro ‘16. A truly spiritual moment in football if not recent cultural history. 20 mins in and injured, in agony, in tears for letting the team and himself down as he is stretchered off the pitch. One man down - and it’s Ronaldo FFS - and Portugal never gives up...then...then: in the last 5 mins, the oldest player in the Portuguese squad is encouraged onto the pitch by the team captain...all full of nerves and pride...and Ronaldo whispers into his ear: ‘I believe in you’...

 

 

If you're into Football and into the Biggest Show on the Face of the Earth (any Football World Cup), read on.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?