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review 2016-10-29 00:00
1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution
1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian... 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution - Boris Dralyuk 4,5 stars.

I'm a bit like Bob Dylan at the moment. Speechless.

A wonderful collection of excellent prose.

I'm not a regular non-fiction & anthologies reader. But I enormously enjoyed this collection.
I saw some names that mean a lot to me, and I became curious. Russian Soviet classic in English? Why not? The end result: I stayed AWAKE the half of the night. I was hooked, I was amazed, I was proud to be able also to read ALL of these authors in the original language. But I have to admit that I didn't know many names, and I googled and as a result -I learned a lot.

And OMG how UP TO DATE these stories are!..

Boris Dralyuk made a great job. The important historical facts that give insights into this turbulent and fateful period of time, that filled the places between the stories and poems, and brilliantly chosen literary fragments...WOW.

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review 2016-10-12 22:05
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore's history of Jerusalem happened to be the first book I reviewed on Booklikes and I was happy to revisit the author with another one of his works. It seems that every time I pick up a history book in a book shop it is endorsed by Montefiore, he's clearly very passionate in his pursuit of historical knowledge. 


This book centres around Stalin and his changing inner circle. It's an odd blend of details of dinner functions, Stalin's character in calm times and the chronicles of the terror and his political brutality. It's a fascinating glimpse into the sycophantic fervour he fostered amongst his magnates and the cunning, horrific nature of his paranoid mind. I've given it five stars, because probably fittingly, after Kershaw's Hitler this is simply the best biography of a historical leader that I have read. 


Anyone who harbours any romanticism or flirts with the hard left I advise to read this and recognise the dangers of unswerving idealism, the dangers of being an illiberal bent on realising a utopia for humanity in the future at any cost to the people of this life. I had always thought that Stalin wasn't overly ideologically motivated, yet this book seeks to dispel that notion comparing the avidity of Stalin's belief in Marxism to that displayed in radical Islamists. 


Something touched upon in the book and spoken about in debates by Christopher Hitchens is the idea that the Tsar in Romanov times was the voice of God himself, understand that and you may be able to understand the cult of personality that Stalin was able to engineer and take advantage of. The idea of a strong, powerful leader was ingrained into Russian society and it is an interesting feature of the revolution, that despite its attempts to turn society on its head with the ultimate goal of Communism, the aura of leadership remained steadfast. 


It fascinated me that the sons and daughters of some of those murdered and tortured beyond repair on Stalin's orders still regarded him as a great leader. It is unfathomable to me that it is possible to inspire such unswerving loyalty amongst people. This is ultimately what draws me to these immensely flawed and yet ridiculously charismatic characters. There seems to be men and women who pop up from time to time under varying banners of ideology, be it religious/political who manage to cultivate vast followings and impact the course of human history through their actions.


And so I came to the end of the book having lived within the court of the red tsar through the eyes of his vicious inner circle and I was struck again by the surreal nature of it all. How terrifying is it? If you place enough power into the hands of the wrong person you can end up with a society in which an innocuous comment could result in years of torture and imprisonment or a painful death. How is it that a man so well read and intelligent as Stalin, uses that intelligence to create a cut throat, savage society in which even those closest to him are not safe from assassination? 


I guess my curiosity will never be sated.

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review 2014-05-06 17:08
Detailed, intimate, haunting, poignant: Four lives rescued from history’s shadows
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport

Comprehensive and well documented, this joint biography of the last Tsar’s four daughters stops just short of their violent deaths at the hands of revolutionaries, but it’s a poignant and haunting story from start to finish. Lovely, intelligent, and good humored, sisters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia were seen as a unit, even referring to themselves as OTMA, but they come alive as individuals in the chapters of this book, with (roughly speaking) Olga the most emotional, Tatiana the most responsible, Maria the best natured, and Anastasia the most spirited. Their parents Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra come across as devoted and doting, fatalistically pious in their beliefs, but not temperamentally suited for public life, and the Tsarevich Alexei, their lively younger brother, romps through the pages as much as his hemophilia allows.


Using sources that include their diaries and letters, the four sisters often get to speak for themselves. Their lives were sheltered, isolated, and privileged, but full of contradictions. They had lots of family love and idyllic summer excursions, but their mother was often incapacitated by illness, and Alexey was regularly bedridden and in great pain. The four were expected to marry well, especially Olga as the eldest, but they were kept from society so their crushes were on soldiers that guarded them, not European royals or members of their own class. They played silly child-like games far into adolescence, but during WWI spent their days tending to badly injured and disfigured soldiers, especially Tatiana who worked as a surgery nurse.

Too thorough and detailed to read like a novel, The Romanov Sisters is still moving and a hard book to put down, capturing some fascinating bits of history and rescuing Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia from history’s shadows. I read an advanced review copy of this book provided by the publisher. The opinions are mine.

Source: jaylia3.booklikes.com/post/875961/detailed-intimate-haunting-poignant-four-lives-rescued-from-history-s-shadows
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review 2014-04-29 04:02
Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Plot for Global Revolution
Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Plot for Global Revolution - Giles Milton
Russian Roulette tells the unknown story of a group of British spies smuggled into Soviet Russia on an undercover mission of vital importance.
They were tasked with thwarting Lenin’s Bolshevik-Islamic plot to topple British India and the Western democracies.
The British spies were self taught and well versed in dirty tricks. Over the next three years, they would be involved in murder, deception and duplicity on a grand scale. Living in disguise - and constantly switching identities - they would infiltrate Soviet commissariats, the Red Army and Cheka (secret police), and would come within a whisker of assassinating Lenin. The pinnacle of their achievement was to unpick Lenin’s plot for global revolution. Their work was to have an unexpected consequence, one that continues to influence our lives today.
Drawn from previously unknown secret documents held in the Indian Political Intelligence archives, Giles Milton gives a remarkable insight into the murky world of espionage, murder and deception that took place inside post-revolutionary Russia. (source)
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review 2013-12-14 03:01
The Russian Revolution 1917/ Notes on the Revolution- N. N. Sukhanov
The Russian Revolution, 1917; A Personal Record - N. N. SUKHANOV

"Revolution!- highly improbable! Revolution! -everyone knew this was only a dream- a dream of generations and long laborious decades...I repeated after them mechanically:
'Yes, the beginning of the revolution.'"


This is a very, very good book.


Sukhanov was a Marxist journalist in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, and when the revolution began, he became part of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet and spent several months at the heart of the revolution. This account is abridged from his over-two-thousand-page, as-yet-untranslated account, Notes on the Revolution. It still runs to 668 pages, and is consistently interesting through all of them. And consistently sarcastic, as he has a low opinion both of the liberals and their socialist allies like Kerensky (whom he really has it in for), and of the Bolsheviks. Even when he clearly admires a person, such as the Menshevik leader Martov, he still has an almost too keen eye for their weak points. This all makes him an excellent observer.

"Miliukov began to speak animatedly, and apparently with complete sincerity.

'And for that matter- you surely don't think we are really carrying on some kind of bourgeois class policy of our own, that we are taking a definite line of some kind! Nothing of the sort. We are simply compelled to see to it that everything doesn't go to pieces once and for all...'

Miliukov, recognized by Europe as the head of Russian imperialism....one of the inspirers of the World War, the Russian Foreign Minister...Miliukov, a highly cultivated man, a great scholar and a professor- didn't know he was speaking prose!"

[A reference to Moliere's The Bourgeois Gentleman. "Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it."]


On the other hand, he can be quite condescending toward a long list of people- women, soldiers, peasants, the liberal intelligentsia, the Socialist Revolutionaries (at the time, the largest political party in Russia). This is grating, and it is amusing in light of the general condescension toward women that his wife was letting the Bolsheviks hold important meetings in their flat without his knowledge.


He has a very keen eye for detail- are the trams running? What was the weather like? Who was trying to get hold of whom on the telephone? Where could a person snatch a few hours of sleep in the midst of momentous events? (Answer: in a gallery of the White Hall, on a fur coast laid out on the floor.) Reading his account, you feel as if you are living through the events, or at the very least receiving detailed letters from a regular correspondent as they go on.


It helped my enjoyment of the book that the main points of his analysis hold up quite well, though the book was written in the late 1910's and early 1920's - that World War One was a catastrophe and that those liberals and socialists who wanted to continue it were criminally irresponsible, and that the Bolsheviks, while right on the war, were lying about everything else and using the slogan "All power to the Soviets" to seize absolute power for their Central Committee. However, sometimes it is very hard to understand what he means by socialism or what kind of program he supported, as he tends to assume the reader knows what he means by "Marxist" and "anarchist" in reference to different policies.


There are a number of hilarious anecdotes in the book, whether in his descriptions of the hypocrisy and stupidity of various politicians, the habits of the local anarchist group, or the confusion that can occur in a revolution. For example, the story of how the Menshevik Dan convinces a pro-Bolshevik regiment to defend the Mensheviks and SR's (then the majority in the Soviet) during the July Days, when the soldiers had come to overthrow these groups.

"The regiment, of its own free will, had performed a difficult march to defend the revolution? Splendid! The revolution, in the person of the central organ of the Soviet, was really in danger....And Dan personally, with the cooperation of the officers of the 'insurrectionary' regiment, poster some of these mutinous soldiers as sentries...for the defense of those against whom the insurrection was aimed. Yes, such things happen in history!"


My only regret about this book is that the rest of it is untranslated. It was really a fascinating and highly educational read. When it came out, even those who disagreed with its point of view (the Communists, for example, since it quite openly points out their dictatorial qualities) acknowledged its importance. If you're interested in the Russian Revolution, it's a must read. Otherwise, it's a good guide to any author writing about a revolution, showing the day-by-day improvisation of the people who suddenly find themselves in charge, the machinations of politicians, and the shifting mood in the street. Absolutely full of telling details.


"'Let's sit down at the table,' said the Ministers, and sat down, in order to look like busy statesmen."

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