Rachel Polonsky teaches Slavonic Studies at Cambridge. Her latest book is Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History. (June 2020)


Naked Souls

Boris Kustodiev: Russian Venus, 1926

Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse

by Ethan Pollock
In the parilka, the wooden steam room at the heart of every Russian banya, a stove heats a pile of stones. When the stones are red-hot, water is thrown onto them, raising billows of light steam. Reclining or standing on wooden benches, bathers sweat and whip themselves with veniki, switches …

When the Soviets Shimmied

The opening procession of the Sixth International Festival of Youth and Students, Moscow, 1957

To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture

by Eleonory Gilburd

A Ransomed Dissident: A Life in Art Under the Soviets

by Igor Golomstock, translated from the Russian by Sara Jolly and Boris Dralyuk
Ilya Ehrenburg considered himself an “average writer”: “I know that what I write today is necessary to people now, but tomorrow they won’t need it,” he told the art historian Igor Golomstock. His sentimental novella The Thaw, published in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death, gave its name to an …

Highly Magical History

A fashion shoot on a dismantled statue of Stalin, Budapest, 1990

Before and During

by Vladimir Sharov, translated from the Russian by Oliver Ready
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

The Bridge Over the Neroch and Other Works

by Leonid Tsypkin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell
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

Living Souls

by Dmitry Bykov, translated from the Russian by Cathy Porter
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

Day of the Oprichnik

by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell

Ice Trilogy

by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell
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 …