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Pushkin's Children: Writing on Russia and Russians Paperback – 23 Oct 2003
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"Tolstaya's essays in this compact, historically significant volume offer a fascinating, highly intelligent analyis of Russian society and politics."
"Tolstaya is simply the most fearless female observer of the very male-centric culture . . . of the USSR." --Ben Dickinson Elle
"Tolstaya's essays in this compact, historically significant volume offer a fascinating, highly intelligent analyis of Russian society and politics." Publishers Weekly
"Collectively [the essays] become one of the great political and cultural documents of our time . . ." --Richard Eder The New York Times Book Review
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The best piece is the one from which the book takes its title: Pushkin’s Children. It is a romp through Russian literature from Pushkin to the Soviet period, and it is illuminating. Whenever the author discusses writers, be they Brodsky or Platonov, she is clear and insightful. Her judgment on Solzhenitsyn – political, but also literary- has been vindicated.
One should read the descriptions of life in Russia after Gorbachev for what they are: Gogolian description of life in a time of chaos, or at least life devoid of the pleasant nostrums that in normal times give sense to nonsense. I liked them as they remind me of how life really is – when we shed the pink glasses we all wear. There are few heroes in the author’s political world. Mostly they veer between self-admiration, obtuseness, drunkenness, and ineptness. But we know that – that’s the fun, right?
Book reviews dominate this collection, from her appreciation of Robert Conquest's The Great Terror to her witty dismissal of Gail Sheehy's book on Gorbachev. She also takes aim at Russian authors, in particular the cult that formed around Solzhenitsyn. The Russian soul is something that continually eludes authors. Exceedingly hard to pin down as is the Russian language.
Jamey Gambrell worked with Tolstaya on this translation, giving it the character of her voice. Although most of the pieces were written during the death throes of the Soviet Union, her observations are still timely and present a compelling portrait of Russia in transition. She takes a stab at the enigmatic Vladimir Putin and the events that led up to his ascension to power. She packs into these essays more meat than many scholars do in their massive tomes on Russia. It is a voice that is both fresh and enlightening.
but is also embarassed and ashamed of its brutal, murderous foray into communism. Tatyana Tolstaya seems just one
more cynical, ironic "nihilist lite" voice from Russia who offers nothing really interesting or insightful into her
country's plight or future. Her observations on cultural matters are neither original nor particularly thought provoking accept
for an occasional criticism of the duplicitious nature of Russian politics. However, she does herself a great dis-service in
her shameful and rather shallow criticisms of Solzhenitsyn. Whatever one may think of Solzhenitsyn's criticisms of modernity, he
is a decorated soldier who was then persecuted in some of Stalin's worse gulags, who even survived cancer while living in
their deprivation and squalor. He also had the courage to openly criticize the worse demonic, blood drenched regime history
has seen, placing his life on the line with each thing he wrote under the watchful eye of the KGB and soviet state. And Ms. Tolstaya?
Due to the respect afforded the Tolstoy name, her family lived in comparatively luxurious surroundings in Moscow,
relatively untouched by the brutal repression of the Soviet state. When one reads her criticisms of Solzhenitsyn, it becomes
clear that his biggest offense in Tolstaya's eyes is that he eventually discovered what it means to be Russian: Orthodox and
Monarchist. Nothing offends the sensibilities of Russian liberals like Tolstaya, fermented in so much Soviet nonsense during
their formative years, as someone opposed to modern liberalism. In one of the most ridiculous essays in the collection, Tolstaya
even goes so far as to place some of the blame for the Yelstin coup, and subsequent chaos, on Solzhenitsyn: apparently, the wily
old unrepentent Orthodox monarchist fomented an anti-soviet, anti-modern sentiment that resonated with enough folks to cause
impatience with the pace of reform. It seems to slip right by the benighted Tolstaya that Solzhenitsyn, perhaps more than any
other public figure, did more to bring down the oppresive, totalitarian soviet system than any one else. One last note of irony:
Tolstaya belittles Solzhenitsyn's short-lived broadcasts that were aired during the 90s and his campaign to encourage
Russians not to import too many foreign words into their language. When Tolstaya and her husband decided to return to
Russia, part of her stated reason was so that she could return to and be enriched by her mother tongue which, she feared, she
was beginning to lose a sense of while living in the West. In the end, Tolstaya has nothing to really offer -- she curses the darkness
but does not try to light a candle. In fact, it isn't clear that she believes in anything in any case. Ms. Tolstaya, if you happen
to read this, take some advice and return to the faith of your forefathers. Vigil is every Saturday evening, followed by the
Divine Liturgy on Sundays. Check for times at the church nearest to you.
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