Jamey Gambrell is a writer on Russian art and culture. She has translated works by Marina Tsvetaeva and Tatyana Tolstaya, in addition to Vladimir Sorokin’s three-volume Ice Trilogy and his Day of the ­Oprichnik. Her translation of Sorokin’s novel The Blizzard will be published in December 2015.


Revolution from Another Angle

Alexander Rodchenko: Pioneer Playing a Trumpet, 1930

The serendipitous confluence of technology, art, and politics in the fields of photography and film is the subject of the Jewish Museum in New York’s current exhibition, “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film.” In his catalogue essay, the Russian art historian Alexander Lavrentiev, grandson of the artists Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, gives a nuanced view of the complex situation in which Soviet photography developed: photography was dominated by three groups or tendencies, whose aesthetics mirrored, to some extent, the spectrum of political factions on the post-Soviet cultural stage. None of these groups opposed the Revolution, however; initially, in fact, most artists and the intelligentsia supported the regime.

The Man Who Flew Like a Bird

Svetlana Alexievich
…He wanted to leave unnoticed, of course. It was evening. Twilight. But several students in the nearby dormitory saw him jump. He opened his window wide, stood up on the sill, and looked down for a long time. Then he turned around, pushed hard, and flew… He flew from the twelfth floor…

A woman was passing by with a little boy. The youngster looked up: “Mama, look, that man is flying like a bird…”

Putin Strikes Again

Russian journalists have suffered crippling attacks in recent years, as Vladimir Putin pursues his policy of strengthening the “vertical” dimension of his administration’s “power pyramid.” The Kremlin’s geometrical terminology means enforcing, from the top down, an ideology intended to align all sectors of Russia’s “managed democracy” (another key phrase of …

An Affair of State

The list of sponsors and their remarks in the longer of the two catalogs indicates that the Russian organizers, as well as the increasingly multinational Guggenheim Foundation empire, view this show as an affair of state.[^1] Vladimir Potanin, the exhibition’s biggest sponsor, is director of the huge holding company Interros,[^2] …

Russia’s New Vigilantes

In July, for the first time since censorship was abolished in post-Communist Russia, a criminal case was brought against a writer and his publisher, under Article 242 of the criminal code: “Illegal distribution of pornographic materials or objects.” The writer is Vladimir Sorokin and his publisher is called Ad Marginem.[^1] …

The Making of Mr. Putin

At this year’s forum in Davos the question “Who is Putin?” was put to the members of the Russian delegation. They became confused, looked at one another, and mumbled something incomprehensible. There was laughter in the hall. But indeed, who is he? For a certain group of Russians—let’s call them …

On Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996)

When the last things are taken out of a house, a strange, resonant echo settles in, your voice bounces off the walls and returns to you. There’s the din of loneliness, a draft of emptiness, a loss of orientation and a nauseating sense of freedom: everything’s allowed and nothing matters, …

The Wonder of the Soviet World

The Exhibition of the Achievement of the People’s Economy, a six-hundred-acre park in the north of Moscow, just a half-hour by metro from Red Square, isn’t on many tourist itineraries nowadays. But once VDNX (the Russian acronym, pronounced vway day en ha) was one of the wonders of the Soviet …

Moscow: Storm Over the Press

A few days after the attack on the Russian Parliament, I crossed the vast, gloomy lobby of Sklifosovsky Hospital, rode to the eighth floor, and wandered through a grimy, dilapidated hall until I found the right room. On Sunday, October 3, and throughout the next day many of the hundreds …

The Age of Innocence

All Russians are familiar with Lenin’s famous saying: “Every cook should know how to run the government.” One wonders what Lenin, who never boiled an egg for himself, could possibly have known about cooks? There was, however, one cook in Russia whose ability to govern her own diminutive empire Lenin …

Art and the Great Utopia

An atmosphere of mystery and romance, with a tragic overcast, has always attended discussions of that constellation of artists and movements we call the Russian avant garde. Despite the flood of information over the last five years—dozens of survey and monographic exhibitions, and many times that number of books and …

The Golden Age

At a dinner after an art exhibition opening in the mid-1970s, I was seated next to an elderly woman, and told in a whisper that she was ninety but had all her wits about her. We started talking and the conversation turned to Nicholas II. The old woman, as it …

Moscow: The Front Page

For those outsiders who learned to decipher the codes, clichés, and inflections of Soviet journalism—what Soviet people used to called “Aesop’s language”—the metamorphosis that took place in little over two years before the attempted coup in August 1991 was nothing short of astonishing. The culture of linguistic camouflage which had …

Kasha on the Brain

In addition to all the well-known problems affecting the former Soviet Union that are continually reported in the Western press—shortages of food and medicine, ethnic strife, political intrigue, and civil discontent—Russians are also suffering from the stress of what might be called psychic noise pollution. The newspapers and evening news …

Seven Days That Shook the World

—Moscow As I write now, in the still, dark hours of early Monday morning a week after the coup, there has been little time for reflection. History caught us off guard, it speeded up to a degree difficult to imagine if you haven’t lived through it. Everyone has a …

Living in a Russian Novel

“If Reagan doesn’t want to sell us wheat, So what—he’ll miss the boat and sink. It’s only over there they think, That living means you have to eat. But we don’t need his bread, we’re smart, We’ll live on our ideas alone. He’ll …

In Cannibalistic Times

Last year Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror was translated into Russian and published in the USSR in the journal Neva. (Unfortunately, only the first edition was published. I hope that the second, revised and enlarged edition will be published as well, if it is not suppressed by the censorship so …

An Appeal for Democracy in the Baltic Republics

The text of this appeal to our compatriots was passed at a meeting of cultural and scientific workers which took place at the USSR Cinematographers Union on January 16, 1991. It was published, under the title ‘The Voice of the Intelligentsia,’ in Argumenty i Fakty in late January. We, people …

The Shame of Armenia

“I gaze at the photograph….” —Bulát Okudzháva For two and a half years the Trans-Caucasus has been burning and bleeding. Six million Azerbaijanis living in a territory of 86,000 square kilometers, and three million Armenians in a territory of 30,000 square kilometers, have forgotten peace. Why has this …

Notes from Underground

During the two weeks I spent in the United States at least forty people asked me: “And what do you think about this book?” The person asking the question would simply point at it, without mentioning the author or title—the assumption seemed to be that it was obviously the book …