California Literary Review

Russia

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Eastern Promises, #29

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April 12th, 2013

The diary of Tatiana (Tatiana Maslany), a 14-year-old, drug-addicted prostitute who dies while giving birth to a daughter in a London hospital, sets the film in motion. Her account of how and why she came to London—provided by periodic voice-overs as the diary is translated from Russian—offers a back story of the mob’s involvement in white slavery and English brothels.

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

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November 23rd, 2012

The hard truth, impossible to dodge, is that this is not Tolstoy’s world. It is more like Hugo Cabret’s world, and from time to time it even flirts perilously with becoming Baz Luhrmann’s world. Tom Stoppard’s script, though consistently bright and entertaining, abridges the story painfully to fit the stylish construct.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Brother (Brat), #99

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December 8th, 2011

Brother was directed by Aleksey Balabanov, who’s been called Russia’s David Lynch. The movie created a stir in that country, not unlike earlier controversies in the United States over movies like A Clockwork Orange or Natural Born Killers, which were said to glamorize violence.

Book Review: René Blum and the Ballets Russes by Judith Chazin-Bennahum

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July 11th, 2011

All of Blum’s many accomplishments were bracketed between the anti-Semitic turmoil of the Dreyfus Affair that tormented France from 1894 to 1904 and the Nazi-led Holocaust in which he perished. To his dying day, Blum thought of himself as a French patriot. Yet it was the complicity of French officials during the German occupation that set him on the road to Auschwitz.

Book Review: From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women, 1847-1928 by Julie P. Gelardi

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March 15th, 2011

Following this betrayal, the Romanov dynasty was swept off the stage of history. Many of the family were arrested by the Bolsheviks and executed, some with a degree of cruelty and incompetence that beggars belief. Marie Feodorovna and Marie Pavlovna were evacuated to safety, but the lives of both women were blighted by the near extermination of the Romanov family.

Movie Review: The Way Back

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January 22nd, 2011

The really good character work – and make no mistake, this is a good cast – happens when the actors are not speaking. The desperation of these wanderers does occasionally shine through in the sidelong distrustful glance, the wistful gaze at unending wilderness, and the ravenous pursuit of small edible animals. One of the best minutes of the movie is when the party chase a pack of wolves off a carcass, only to fight over the kill like bloodthirsty animals themselves.

Book Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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October 18th, 2010

Pasternak ranges the individualism of Zhivago against the heartless society that is being erected by the Bolsheviks on the grave of Tsarist Russia. Where Zhivago questions his every deed from the standpoint of conscience, left-wing leaders like Lara’s husband, Pasha Antipov, who styles himself as Strelnikov or “Shooter,” kill without blinking or thinking.

Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting by John Maxwell Hamilton

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September 16th, 2009

Not all of the foreign correspondents for American papers were themselves American. Karl Marx contributed almost five hundred articles on the European scene to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune during the years between 1852 and 1861. This was after Marx had published the Communist Manifesto and was working on Das Kapital; but his reportage for Greeley, though left-leaning, looks to a modern reader relatively objective.

Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism, at the Tate Modern, London

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March 31st, 2009

In 1921, the Constructivists announced the end of painting. To mark its passing they held the exhibition ‘5 x 5 = 25’ and declared that they would now only make art for everyday life; Productivism. The Tate has devoted a room to this last exhibition of painting, the highlight of which has to be Rodchenko’s ‘Pure Red Colour, Pure Yellow Colour, Pure Blue Colour’ (1921).

Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900-1920: Art, Life, & Culture of the Russian Silver Age by John E. Bowlt

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February 2nd, 2009

Writers of the caliber of Anton Chekov, Alexsander Blok and Anna Akhmatova, visionary artists like Mikhail Vrubel, Leon Bakst and Kazimir Malevich and inspired patrons like Diaghilev were matched by counterparts in music, architecture, the social sciences and Russia’s burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Composer Igor Stravinsky, the aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky, dancer Vaslav Nijinksy and a host of others formed a constellation of talent worthy of comparison to the leading lights of Florence in the age of Lorenzo de Medici.

Engaging, Not Confronting, Russia

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September 15th, 2008

The West would exacerbate rather than ease this problem if it brought Georgia into NATO. Nor should we try to bring Ukraine into NATO. Ukraine is now independent and recognized by the world as such, but for most of its history its relationship with Russia has been, to say the least, very close; Kiev was the capital of the first Russian state. One assumes the Europeans will continue to prevent either Georgia or Ukraine from joining NATO; but this has not stopped George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, and John McCain from continuing to push the idea.

The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia by Tim Tsouliadis

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July 23rd, 2008

Readers of faint heart beware when embarking upon this superb work of history. So many stories of suffering are here collected, so utterly specific in their brutal details, a strong stomach will be required. Yet, it is worth the pain since one cannot emerge doubting: the epoch is surely one of history’s most vicious; and its revelation of the Twentieth Century’s brutality is dumbfounding.

Parag Khanna Discusses The Second World

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March 4th, 2008

“Around the entire world what I see is Europe and China investing into and buying greater shares of foreign economies—and thus gaining significant political and even military leverage over them—at our expense. Power has to be a fair balance among a range of tools, including the military, in order to be used effectively. We’re not doing that now, and I don’t see a good strategy coming out of Washington as to how to do it better.”

Comrade J by Pete Earley

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January 24th, 2008

It was the goings-on, the kleptocracy that emerged, the sheer blatant thuggery of Putin’s entourage, the vandalism and looting that commenced after 1989, related by Tretyakov, that finally discouraged him, a professional through and through and a Russian patriot. The principles that led to his flight into the cloaking arms of the CIA and FBI are suggestive: leaving behind all his property and possessions, amounting to about two million dollars, was worth it because in his view Russia was ruined and things had gone beyond any hope of redemption in his lifetime. He wanted his daughter to grow up a free woman.

The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik

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January 7th, 2008

In twelve short years – from 1788 to 1800 – the world changed, with the late eighteenth century emerging as one of the most momentous, if restless, eras in human history. In Russia, a great dynasty would be toppled; in France, revolution and the guillotine would hold sway; and, in America, the nascent democracy would enter the most critical period of its short existence.

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