Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His latest book is Revolutionary Russia, 1891–1991: A History.

 (July 2018)


Books of the Dead

Sergei Lebedev; drawing by Karl Stevens


by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis

The Year of the Comet

by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis
Not since Alexander Solzhenitsyn has Russia had a writer as obsessed as Sergei Lebedev with that country’s history or the traces it has left on the collective consciousness. Born in 1981, Lebedev grew up in Moscow as the Soviet Union fell apart. His three novels are coming-of-age stories in which …

Dancing in Chains

‘Dancing Bear’; illustration by C. Knight, 1875

Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny

by Witold Szabłowski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
The Dancing Bears Park is Europe’s largest sanctuary for bears rescued from captivity. Located in Belitsa, in the Rila Mountains of southwest Bulgaria, it is a major tourist site. The park is managed by Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization that has been liberating circus and performing bears in …

The Wild Child of Russian Literature

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya performing at the 16 Tons nightclub, Moscow, July 2010

The Girl from the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia

by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated from the Russian and with an introduction by Anna Summers
Fame came late to Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, one of Russia’s most admired living writers, best known for her scary stories about Soviet family life. It was not until she turned fifty, at the height of glasnost in 1988, that she emerged on the literary scene. For many years before that she …

A Very Close Friend of the Family

Gregory Rasputin in the hospital after being stabbed in an attempted assassination, Tyumen, Siberia, 1914. The writing at the bottom is a detail of Rasputin’s inscription, which Douglas Smith translates as follows: ‘God knows what is to become of us in the morn.’

Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

by Douglas Smith
Divers brought up the frozen body of Gregory Rasputin from beneath the ice of the Malaya Nevka River in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1916. The wooden supports of the Large Petrovsky Bridge, from which his body had been thrown into the water, were stained with blood where he had …

Alexievich’s New Kind of History

Svetlana Alexievich, Stockholm, November 2012

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich
When she won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, Svetlana Alexievich was little known outside Belarus and the former Soviet Union where her books were published in Russian. Those that had been translated into English had appeared with small presses. Newspapers scrambled to find out who the Belarusian writer was …

The Courage of the Composer

Dmitri Shostakovich; drawing by William Kentridge for his production of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose, 2009

The Noise of Time

by Julian Barnes
In Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), his best-known novel, Julian Barnes recounts the scene in L’Éducation sentimentale where Frédéric, its hero, “wanders through an area of Paris wrecked by the 1848 uprising” and notices “amid the chaos” things that have survived by chance: He sees a clock, some prints—and a parrot’s perch.


Hamming Up Bulgakov

Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm in A Young Doctor’s Notebook

It’s not hard to see why Mikhail Bulgakov’s books are so often dramatized. He was himself a dramatist, and adapted his own novel The White Guard (1925) for the stage. His prose is highly visual, full of humorous incidents, theatrical in atmosphere, and frequently surreal—all qualities that lend it to the stage and screen. But not all his books were written in that vein. A new television series starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe shows that Bulgakov is becoming better known, but not necessarily through his own words.