Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine

Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine

by Sophie Pinkham


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A distinctive writer’s fascinating journey into the heart of a troubled region.

Ukraine has rebuilt itself over and over again in the last century, plagued by the same conflicts: corruption, poverty, substance abuse, ethnic clashes, and Russian aggression. Sophie Pinkham saw all this and more in the course of ten years working, traveling, and reporting in Ukraine and Russia, over a period that included the Maidan revolution of 2013–14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.

With a keen eye for the dark absurdities of post-Soviet society, Pinkham presents a dynamic account of contemporary Ukrainian life. She meets—among others—a charismatic doctor helping to smooth the transition to democracy even as he struggles with his own drug addiction, a Bolano-esque art gallerist prone to public nudity, and a Russian Jewish clarinetist agitating for Ukrainian liberation. These fascinating personalities, rendered in a bold, original style, deliver an indelible impression of a country on the brink.

Black Square is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to learn not only the political roots of the current conflict in Ukraine but also the personal stories of the people who live it every day.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393247978
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,310,533
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.10(d)

About the Author

Sophie Pinkham’s writing on Russia and Ukraine has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, n+1, the London Review of Books, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. She lives in New York.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

A Note on the Transliteration xv

Part I New Worlds

1 The Paris of Siberia 3

2 Resurrection 21

3 City of Gardens, City of Ravines 39

4 Men's Day 52

Part II Living Together

5 Buckwheat and Rye 65

6 Carpathian Cowboys 81

7 The People's Music 91

8 The Last Jew in Stalindorf 107

9 The Kingdom of the Dead 121

Part III Revolution

10 Dreaming of Europe 141

11 Are You Alive, Brother? 156

12 Masks and Monuments 176

13 Reunion 184

14 The Wild Steppe 197

Part IV War and Peace

15 Heroes Don't Die 211

16 Crashing 229

17 New Year in Kiev 235

18 Rocket City 252

19 Victory Day 263

A Note on Sources 280

Acknowledgments 287

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Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
AndrewReadsBooks More than 1 year ago
Black Square Sophie Pinkham's memoir / history of modern Ukraine really feels like two books that have been spliced into one - one book on the problems of drugs, HIV, poverty, and marginalization of sexual minorities in Ukraine, and one on the revolution and it's aftermath. Both books are revealing and important, but it's hard to find the clear connections between them. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it is in tracing the connections between these that the reader gains the fullest sense of the people and politics of modern Ukraine. The author's writing style is engaging, and she does a very good job contextualizing her interactions with Ukrainian nationals. However, her descriptions of those she calls her friends and of herself are of inconsistent depth and intimacy - at times Pinkham is reflective, but most of the time her lense is focused on the world around her. The result is some loose ends and ambiguities that can be a little puzzling. For example, what becomes of the heroin addict young doctor she befriends in her earliest travels and re-connects with in her subsequent trips? While I understand that the realities of life are that people drop out of contact, some closure for the reader would be helpful. I found the attention to cultural expectations between Ukrainians, Russians, and those who experience different degrees of cross-acculturation to be fascinating. Similarly, the exposition of internal politics, conspiracy theories, and the practical implications of US-Russian political pressures was remarkably well written. The humanitarian account of addictions (and the organizations allegedly meant to address them) reminds me a lot of the program implementation problems I often read about when looking at development work in Africa. Overall, the book is deeply informative and provides a human perspective on the often abstracted political and social problems of modern Ukraine, while not losing sense of the larger national and international narratives. Readers hoping to better understand the humanitarian and political issues of Eastern Europe will find this book quite helpful.