September 01, 2014

For Better or Worse


For Better or Worse

Every time one thinks that things just can't get any worse on the US-Russian relations front, they do.

In the past decade and a half‘s slow downward spiral there has been the war in Chechnya, the US bombing of Serbia, spy scandals, the ABM Treaty, NATO expansion, the war in Georgia, the failed “reset” button, Edward Snowden, the annexation of Crimea, and now the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, from the outside looking in, Americans see the de-democratization of elections, crackdowns on press freedoms, politically motivated criminal prosecutions, the theft of state assets, and a worrying political homogenization of society.

And from the inside looking out, Russians see NATO encirclement, US and EU meddling in its sphere of influence, American military intervention in Islamic states situated on Russia‘s underbelly, and neighbors who are freeloading off cheap Russian energy.

It is hard not to look at these events and oppositional worldviews and conclude that the situation is hopeless.

Yet it bears remembering that for most of the twentieth century the US and the USSR found a way to coexist (while of course conducting many wars through proxy), despite the fact that each had an ideology that swore the other state would crumble.

It also is worth remembering that for most of the nineteenth century the US and Russia had the best of relations, despite the fact that they had oppositional views on the nature of society and political freedoms, and that their territorial empires were butting up against one another in the Pacific.

When the world is self-inflicting arson, mayhem and banality on itself (which, admittedly, it seems to be doing most of the time), it helps to step back and keep things in perspective.

When Russians and Ukrainians, tied together by centuries of history, are fighting over scraps of territory, when spies are violating one another‘s air and desktop space, when politicians are deciding what people have a right to read, watch and eat, it is good to take a breather. It is good to read about street photographers, to run off into the wilderness in search of wolves, to ruminate on soulful poetry, or to wonder at beautiful animals.

The world gave us the unimaginable tragedy of a downed airliner. We respond by embellishing the cover of our magazine with an unlikely, noble and beautiful giraffe.

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Chekhov Bilingual

Chekhov Bilingual

Some of Chekhov's most beloved stories, with English and accented Russian on facing pages throughout. 
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

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Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.

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