March 03, 2011

Review: The Road & More

The Road by Vassily Grossman (New York Review of Books)

Thisamazing collection of fiction and non-fiction by one of the 20th century's most talented and most overlooked writers re-demonstrates that Grossman was a meticulous documentarian of the Russian soul.

There is pathos and sorrow here, most notably in "The Hell of Treblinka," but there is hope and lightness as well, albeit at times tinged with the inescapable Soviet Orthodoxy.

Grossman's letters to his deceased mother are heart-wrenching, and his short stories are profoundly memorable. Robert Chandler's superb editing, introduction and notes make this a collector's edition.

Russian Literature, by Andrew Baruch Wachtel and Ilya Vinitsky (Polity)

A brilliant survey of the themes and trends in Russian literature, one period at a time. Each period is looked at through the tripartite lens of a chosen biography, a literary or cultural event, and a work of literature, making this vast and often intimidating subject manageable.

Growing Up in a Criminal World: Siberian Education, by Nicolai Lilin (W.W. Norton, April 2011)

If you have an interest in the Russian Underworld, this book - one is not sure whether to call it fiction or creative non-fiction or history - is a sort of first person account of life growing up in a strict, brutal criminal world. It is so rich in detail of the underworld life that one suspects it has to have been informed by deep personal experience.

The True Memoirs of Little K, by Adrienne Sharp (FSG)

A beautifully written, highly unreliable (so the fictional author herself admits), yet entertaining first person memoir by ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, mistress to the last tsar. A colorful portrait of court life at the end of the Romanov's reign that seems to ring true with historical fact, as much as that can be known.

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