Tatyana Tolstaya was born in Leningrad in 1951 to an aristocratic family that includes the writers Leo and Alexei Tolstoy. After completing a degree in classics at Leningrad State University, Tolstaya worked for several years at a Moscow publishing house. In the mid-1980s, she began publishing short stories in literary magazines and her first story collection established her as one of the foremost writers of the Gorbachev era. She spent much of the late Eighties and Nineties living in the United States and teaching at several universities. Known for her acerbic essays on contemporary Russian life, Tolstaya has also been the co-host of the Russian cultural interview television program School for Scandal. Both her novel, The Slynx and her collection of stories, White Walls, are published by NYRB Classics.

IN THE REVIEW

The Making of Mr. Putin

First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait

by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, with Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, Andrei Kolesnikov, Translated from the Russian by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The Russian original, Ot pervovo litsa, is available on the website www.vagrius.com.
What if we try to understand “who Putin is” without relying on those who are molding his image—since we aren’t inclined to believe them? I’ve heard that the training program for US Green Berets includes an exercise in “determining the contents of a box without opening it.” Let’s try to apply something of the same approach to the freshly elected president of Russia as well. Central to understanding the image of our protagonist is the well-organized and effective Soviet state machine that found, convinced, educated, and defined Putin during his youthful, formative years, which coincided with “developed socialism,” that is, the Brezhnev period. At the time, the KGB was the most efficiently functioning part of the Soviet state machine. Its strength was founded on the absence of any control by law, on panic-stricken fear of its omnipotence, and on its immensely detailed information about what was going on in the country and in the heads of its citizens.

Out of This World

Andrei Platonov is an extraordinary writer, perhaps the most brilliant Russian writer of the twentieth century. Very different from any other writer I know of (in a sense he has no literary predecessors), he is still little known to the Western reader, in part be-cause of the extraordinary difficulty of …

Russian Roulette

When I opened the newspaper on the morning of August 17, I saw the headline “Market Crashes.” I’m not an economist and understand nothing of the enigmatic world of money. For me, the word “market” means open-air stands where old ladies from villages near Moscow sell cheap freshly picked mushrooms, …

Missing Persons

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia

by David King

Eyewitness to History: The Photographs of Yevgeny Khaldei

with a biographical essay by Alexander Nakhimovsky and Alice Nakhimovsky
At one time or another every kid draws a mustache or eyeglasses on a portrait in a history textbook. Men are usually decorated with beads, earrings, fluffy curls, bow-tie lips, a deep, ample décolletage, and, space permitting, a crinoline. Women are provided with a five-day beard, scars, a pirate eyepatch, …

Love Story

Dreams of My Russian Summers

by Andreï Makine, Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan
Russian literature may take pride in a strange success: Andreï Makine, a Russian of indeterminate French origin, was awarded two of the most prestigious literary prizes for a book written in French, in France, and about France—a book which is nonetheless quintessentially Russian. In our time, it seems, you have …

The Way They Live Now

Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia

by David Remnick
St. Petersburg, 1997. My mother (eighty-one years old) travels all the way across town to pick up her orphaned grandson’s social security payment: you can only receive the payment in person and only on a certain day of the month. She is greeted by a sign: “No money.” “And when …

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, …

Russian Lessons

'The Russian Question' at the End of the Twentieth Century

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, translated and annotated by Yermolai Solzhenitsyn
What a strange spectacle it is: Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s biweekly broadcasts on Russian television. In the late evening, when the long Moscow day-light begins to fade and the construction dust settles, the writer pours out a stream of banalities, platitudes, and exclamations (“It’s a nightmare!,” “This is terrible!,” “Disgraceful!”) in his …