Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Review Odds & Ends: Volkov, Kharms, et al.

1. You won’t need a deep interest in Daniil Kharms to enjoy a recent London Review of Books article on Matvei Yankelevich’s book of translations, Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms. Reviewer Tony Wood provides plenty of background on Kharms’s behavioral and literary eccentricities before commenting on Yankelevich’s translations.

One of my previous postings about Kharms includes links to Russian and English versions of his work.

2. Meanwhile, in The New York Times Book Review, Keith Gessen reviews Solomon Volkov’s The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn. Books whose titles promise so much are often a disappointment – War and Peace notwithstanding – and Gessen doesn’t sound thrilled with Volkov’s efforts, despite the book’s seeming completeness and descriptiveness.

Gessen places Volkov’s book in context by questioning the title, reminding readers that 20th-century Russian cultural history hardly feels magical, thanks to what he calls a “string of exiles, suicides, torture sessions and murders.” Gessen also mentions the tendency for members of Joseph Brodsky’s generation to retreat into the private life they craved during the Soviet period, rendering them “powerless to stop Putin from terrorizing their country.” This is true: I know one person who thinks of himself as being in a sort of personal exile.

3. Finally, recent daily issues of the New York Times have included two other Russia-related reviews: Bill Keller’s take on Timothy J. Colton’s Yeltsin: A Life and Janet Maslin’s unecstatic views of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44.


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