Rachel Polonsky is a Fellow of Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge and an Affiliated Lecturer in Slavonic Studies there. Her most recent book is Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History. (July 2015)

Highly Magical History

A fashion shoot on a dismantled statue of Stalin, Budapest, 1990
In the bloody summer of 2014 Vladimir Sharov’s eighth novel, Return to Egypt, was shortlisted for “The Big Book,” Russia’s most prestigious literary award (and the world’s most remunerative after the Nobel Prize for Literature).1 It won the Russian Booker Prize several months later. Its hero, a Soviet agronomist …

The Triumph of an Underground Man

Leonid Tsypkin at his lab at the Institute of Poliomyelitis near Moscow, early 1970s
Leonid Tsypkin was the authentic underground man of the Soviet “era of stagnation,” leading a hidden life as a writer during Leonid Brezhnev’s years as Party leader. He died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1982 at the age of fifty-six, professionally humiliated and socially isolated, a brokenhearted Jewish refusenik, denied permission to join his only son, who had emigrated. Not a word of his small body of literary work was printed anywhere until just a few days before his death.

Russia: The Citizen Poet

Dmitry Bykov receiving the Big Book Award for his biography of Boris Pasternak at the Central House of Writers, Moscow, November 2006
Over the past few years, Dmitry Bykov’s creative flow has been noisily saturating his Russian audience with literary allusions, giving new life to old books. Now in his mid-forties, Bykov has published five novels and three lengthy biographies,1 as well as numerous collections of short stories, essays, and verse.

Violent, Ecstatic Russians

Vladimir Sorokin at the PEN World Voices Festival, New York City, May 2011
The Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin was far from Moscow, finishing a residency at Stanford University, in late November 2011, when Vladimir Putin began to lose his aura of absolute power. The scene at Moscow’s Olympic Hall, wishfully dubbed “the end of the Putin era” by opposition blogger Alexei Navalny, was …