Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Lots of obituaries everywhere, almost all saying very similar things. A representative one in the new york times, which has a comment which had me stumped. David Remnick (current editor of New Yorker and author of "Lenin's Tomb") defending him against charges of anti-semitism says that his mother-in-law was Jewish and so were "not a few of his friends"!!

I have only read his "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and although I didn't read it long ago, all I am able to remember of it now is the the way it ends: "Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three days were for leap years." I do hope to read his other books some time too. Two other books set in Stalin's Russia which are on my perennial to-read list are Victor Serge's The Case of Comrade Tulayev and Vasilly Grossman's Life and Fate.

Lenin's Tomb comments on some of the unsavoury aspects of his politics, including the fact that he said some nice things about the Franco dictatorship.


Space Bar said...

Now I'm confused. Are you saying that David Remnick is the 'lenin' of Lenis' Tomb? (I'm asuming that you mean the blog.) What about this claim in LT:

'Stuff about 'lenin': I'm from Northern Ireland, twenty eight years old, and can resist anything except temptation, flattery or money. '

Alok said...

sorry for the confusion. he wrote the book "lenin's tomb" about the fall of communism. he was a russian correspondent for washington post before he went to new yorker.

Alok said...

have added the link to amazon.

Space Bar said...

ah, okay. thanks! I didn't know that.

Kubla Khan said...

For a long time there was a joke that for any eastern bloc writer to get a Nobel, all they needed was a good agent, a translation into any Western language, few good reviews in any western paper and that was it......job done. they needed to write a lengthy tirade against communism......

to be fair, i have not read Solzhenitsyn at all but he has all the attributes of what Turgenev so well demonstrated. he was a turncoat, blasting communism and then going west, and returning and then getting Putinised, if you permit me to say that.

i have read a few articles about him, in which the general opinion is that in the end, the balance for him was slavophilic xenophobism, mistrust of anything. at one time, he was the toast of the Reagan setup. this shows how writers get and allow themselves to serve an ideology, a tendency that has received treatment now in diverse ways, say in Bolano's fiction.

this does not detract from the merits of him or anyone else as a writer. the important thing is the use or abuse of the written word and what it should actually serve. however, art for arts sake does not exist though if it does, it is quite rare.

in an essay i read in Zizek's Interrogating the real, he shows the same tendency for now ex-east bloc writers in castigating their present regimes for harboring or favoring ex-communists, who are supposed to be the real power. he talks of conspiracy theories and how they are objectified, though in a different context.
excuse the digression.

Alok said...

I have only read one book, the short novel One Day in the Life... which is actually great (lots of small details which in the end coalesce into a whole which is much more complex) and from what I have read about his other books they seem mostly free of his mystical slavophilia which borders on ethnocentrism, even racism.

This on the whole is an extremely difficult and complex subject - how does one keep one's artistic integrity in a world divided by political ideologies. I have been reading about Turgenev and how he was criticised and ridiculed from all sides of political divide and yet he refused to take any one side, despite feeling extremely bitter about all this. this is something very difficult for a writer to do. If one opposes communism, one has to go to the Reagan camp: that's how it seems to work. In fact he was even disappointed with american administration because they were not fanatically anti-communistic enough for him. Many latin american writers had to struggle with this too...neruda, marquez etal llosa for example became a passionate neo-liberal after breaking his ties from the left. this is something that occupied Bolano a lot too.

Bill said...

A lot of opinion on the basis of very little reading. If you have only read "One Day in the Life ..." and you recognize the limitations that places on your authority, why feel obliged to share that?