Overview

These twenty pieces address the politics, culture, and literature of Russia with both flair and erudition. Passionate and opinionated, often funny, and using ample material from daily life to underline their ideas and observations, Tatyana Tolstaya’s essays range across a variety of subjects. They move in one unique voice from Soviet women, classical Russian cooking, and the bliss of snow to the effect of Pushkin and freedom on Russia writers; from the death of the czar and the Great Terror to the changes brought...
See more details below
Pushkin's Children: Writing on Russia and Russians

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.49
BN.com price
(Save 25%)$13.99 List Price

Overview

These twenty pieces address the politics, culture, and literature of Russia with both flair and erudition. Passionate and opinionated, often funny, and using ample material from daily life to underline their ideas and observations, Tatyana Tolstaya’s essays range across a variety of subjects. They move in one unique voice from Soviet women, classical Russian cooking, and the bliss of snow to the effect of Pushkin and freedom on Russia writers; from the death of the czar and the Great Terror to the changes brought by Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin in the last decade. Throughout this engaging volume, the Russian temperament comes into high relief. Whether addressing literature or reporting on politics, Tolstaya’s writing conveys a deep knowledge of her country and countrymen. Pushkin’s Children is a book for anyone interested in the Russian soul.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544080034
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 7/18/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 320 KB

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION If the really lucky writers are the ones who survive the hideous misadventures of history, then Tatyana Tolstaya is fortunate beyond telling. Consider the devastating events she and her countrymen have lived through in the half-century her lifetime spans: hunger, persecution, treachery and corruption, highly convoluted inducements to fear, brainwashing (and, sometimes, in the face of it, the most heroic adherence to the liberty of the mind), scarcity and demeaning—not ennobling—poverty, decades of spiritual stagnation and disgust. And then consider the stage on which these tragedies of the Soviet Union played themselves out: Great Russia itself, the chill white motherland, endless, magnificent, all-consuming. Oh, to be born in the proximity of such material!
Even better luck, the author who claims this rich inheritance came of age as a writer sometime around the middle of the 1980s, just in time to record the death by putrefaction of Soviet socialism, the collapse of its vast empire, and the subsequent lurching advance of the post-Soviet state. These events took place beginning in 1985, with the designation of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. His momentous years in power were followed by the adventures in government of President Boris Yeltsin. Under the pallid leader Vladimir Putin, Russia now struggles with its past and future. Tolstaya has written about all of it and so presents the happy reader with the twenty essays in this book, a brilliant writer’s ongoing account of the most transcendent political event of the second half of the twentieth century.
Tolstaya has published three other books in English translation: two short works of fiction written in a delicate, richly meditative register, and her latest novel, The Slynx. As a writer of fact Tolstaya takes on a very different voice. In fact, she writes as a participant in her country’s lamentable history, and she is a spinning fury, emitting words like sparks, enraged, saved from choking on the absurdities she has been called to witness only by the irresistible need to laugh at them. Indignation is her creative fuel, and her only relief is a related mordant tenderness for the sorry protagonists of so much stupidity. She does beautifully when she has to wave farewell to the poet Joseph Brodsky, dead so long before his time. She does even better, though, when she takes on the lumbering Boris Yeltsin and slaps him around in print, calling him a great Russian dolt, upbraiding him for doing this and failing to do the other, then stops in her tracks to observe him, deathly tired of so much responsibility, as he asks his helicopter pilot to land by a river and just linger a while. And what of her description of the epic, pathetic, and maligned Russian Everyman, grimy from centuries of poverty and self-neglect, without so much as a radish to bite on before he gulps down a shot of vodka, sniffing instead at the filthy sleeve of his greatcoat in order to get, at least, a good whiff of its many spicy odors?
Tolstaya is the offspring of a deeply literary family (although, she has said, she was well into adulthood before she started writing, in response to “steady and gentle pressure” from her father). Lev Tolstoy is among her forebears. Her paternal grandfather, Alexei Tolstoy, was a famous writer of the Soviet era. Her father was a brilliant scholar. Her mother’s father, Mikhail Lozinsky, produced definitive translations of Shakespeare, Dante, and Lope de Vega. Tolstaya was born while Joseph Stalin was still alive, but the near-sacred family name shielded its members from terror, and Tatyana grew up in relative comfort in a book- filled apartment—all of which placed her rather outside the Soviet norm and granted her precocious observer status. She learned early to tell stories and quarrel with words, and would suffer when she was not able to find the inner words to describe her feelings, she later recalled. At university she studied the classics. She worked in a publishing house. At last, she started writing. She made a short trip to the United States and then, in the company of her husband, moved there in 1989. She learned English, and when she realized she was learning too much of it she fled back to her native country, before her Russian suffered any damage. (She retains enough English, however, to work closely with Jamey Gambrell on the latter’s beautiful, muscular translations.) The author’s childhood, glowing and privileged in so many ways, nevertheless coincided with the cold war’s years of frozen panic, and also with the long interregnum in which the Soviet leadership relaxed in power, believing itself eternal. Growiing up surrounded by the bad faith and false language of that particular stage of socialism, Tolstaya learned to take rhetoric seriously. This lucky accident—yet another!—gives her enormous range, as rhetoric permeated every aspect of Soviet life. Lenin’s tomb was a rhetorical exercise, and so was urban design, as Tolstaya reminds us when she writes about the heirs to Field Marshal Potemkin: the scruffy bureaucrats who ordered all the houses on Richard Nixon’s route to the Kremlin painted and refurbished in preparation for his visit. But most of all, of course, rhetoric dominated language, and language dominated thought. “The Party is our Helmsman!” “You are walking the true path, comrades!” (rhetoric loves exclamation points) and “The Party is the Mind, Honor, and Conscience of the People!” (rhetoric loves capital letters, too) are among the deadly avalanche of slogans the young Tatyana’s love of words survived.
The author’s swift, skillful weaving between false words and the reality they hit at a slant allows her readers to become intimate with the eerie unnaturalness of Soviet existence. On the surface, the coarse fabric of everyday life could not have been more stultifying and commonplace. But because it was shot through with the glinting thread of so many wild, extravagant, preposterous lies, it acquired a dreaminess, a mythical quality, that serves Tolstaya’s literary purposes well. Memorably, she tells how, as a child playing in the courtyard, she helped defeat U.S. imperialism and the omnipresent network of spies and infiltrators she had been warned against: “Who knows, they might be anywhere, disguised as Soviet citizens in regular clothes. They would reveal all our mysteries, steal the secrets of our might, and, God forbid, become just as strong and unconquerable as we were.” These enemy agents must be deceived at all costs. When on a spring day an aged, wheezing couple shuffles towards her to ask directions, she understands her duty and sends them tottering away in the opposite direction from the botanical gardens they wish to visit.
Early guilt can carve an entire life into a different shape. Age eight, watching the elderly couple make their painful progress in the wrong direction, she is overwhelmed by the knowledge that they are not spies. “I heard the scrape and clank of the cogs in the state propaganda machine, a machine that had forgotten why it was turning,” she writes. She understands something basic about how the lies her elders told her have twisted her soul. Who knows but that her nonfiction writing career has been one long effort to make things right with the two pathetic strangers she betrayed as a child?
Be that as it may, any writer’s struggle to survive a regime that dictates thought is a remarkable moral journey. Alice, making her way through the looking-glass world, passive and bemused and so easily conned into apologizing for mistakes she has not made, acquires great moral power when she at last succumbs to rage. “I can’t stand this any longer!” she yells, sick of the insanity, sick of the Red Queen and her threats. Then she picks up the pathetic, flailing queen and shakes her and shakes her and shakes her . . . until at last she wakes up. So Tolstaya.
In Tolstaya’s writing, we get a first-person Alice, clear-eyed and back from mirror land. There is a luminous directness to Tolstaya’s discussion of Russian intellectuals, who have struggled for two centuries to understand whether it is morally tolerable to write as Pushkin did, without political engagement. Curiously, although Tolstaya comes down squarely on the side of creative freedom, it is as a chronicler of political events that her own words catch fire. Her opinions are passionate, changeable, arguable, and sometimes even questionable—she is not, praise heaven, that most tedious of media creatures, a pundit—and every one carries the full force of the lived moment. She is not a reporter with a tape recorder in her hand, but a Russian writer with a unique voice and an urge to communicate the state of things.
Emerging from these pages, we can imagine Tolstaya and her world with such intensity that it would be difficult to persuade us of any difference between our imagination and her reality: the prerevolutionary kitchens with their pheasant consommés, their ovens like furnaces, and the miserable servant sleeping in the cupboard; Stalin and his handy eraser, with which he cheerfully removed his enemies not only from the world of the living but from the pages of photographed history too; Solzhenitsyn, once our moral guide, now the dreary geezer mouthing tedious, endless nostrums in the wasteland of the television screen. It’s all so appalling, so hopeless, so ridiculous. If one could only stop laughing, it might be possible to give in to a spell of moral anguish. “Oh, but you know, I heard the most amazing thing today. Let me tell you . . .” Tolstaya exclaims, and we listen entranced to her latest story.
—Alma Guillermoprieto

Copyright © 2003 by Tatyana Tolstaya English translation copyright © 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 by Jamey Gambrell Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

CONTENTS Introduction by Alma Guillermoprieto vi Women’s Lives 1 The Great Terror and the Little Terror 14 Misha Gorbachev’s Small World 27 Yeltsin Routs Gorbachev 49 The Future According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn 61 Pushkin’s Children 80 The Death of the Tsar 98 Kitchen Conversations 112 In the Ruins of Communism 124 Yeltsin and Russia Lose 140 The Past According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn 155 On Joseph Brodsky 168 Russia’s Resurrection 175 Dreams of Russia, Dreams of France 187 History in Photographs 196 The Price of Eggs 206 Snow in St. Petersburg 216 Andrei Platonov’s Unusual World 218 The Making of Mr. Putin 227 Lies I Lived 240
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2013

    ~Twi

    Vse Brohauf

    /)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2003

    ???a true disappointment???

    I expected to get insight on the thoughts of Russians and how they think. Instead it was mostly bashing the works of other writers with little insight of Russians, but more personal frustrations. It was very slow reading and boring at best.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)