Saturday, September 18, 2010
Well, if you’re casting about for something to read, if you’re looking to bone up on your understanding of the Soviet experience of the early days of Lenin, up through the 1940s, if you’re not faint-hearted and do crave absorption in some of the most compelling and brutal, cynical and clear-eyed writing out there on this subject, then pop on down to your local bookstore and grab a copy of "Life and Fate" or "Everything Flows."
Vasily Grossman was a journalist for the Soviet Red Star during the Second World War. He covered most of the major battles from the defense of Moscow to the fall of Berlin and his “The Hell of Treblinka” was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials. The manuscripts of both “Life and Fate” and “Everything Flows” were seized and the books only finally published in the 1980s. Although originally perhaps a believer in Soviet Socialism, by the time the Second World War was over and Anti-Semitic threads began to weave through Stalin’s empire, Vasily Grossman began to question the existence of, and his loyally to, the USSR.
“Life and Fate” is a novel, really, but like “War and Peace,” which took in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia by following the Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov families, “Life and Fate” centers on the siege of Stalingrad and the Shtrum family. Because this is less a strictly factual and dry recollection of history, “Life and Fate” breathes and screams off the page, rising up like a demon, evoking the sights, smells, sounds, terrors, passions, and fears of one of the longest sieges of modern times.
“Everything Flows” is the one I just finished and it’s the story of a man coming back home to Leningrad after spending 30 years in a Siberian hard labor camp “without right of correspondence.” During this time Stalin has collectivized the farms of the Ukraine, which resulted in perhaps 30 million people starving to death. It’s gripping, to say the least. But it explains Stalin and Stalinism in a way that was new for me. I guess I never really thought enough about Stalin to understand how such a thing could have happened. But now I think I see, and it’s probably a good idea for anyone with an enquiring mind to read these books. They may surprise you and for sure they will shock and engross you. For sure.
Both of these books are translated by Robert Chandler.
Idyllwild Books has them (as well as other superb writers such as all of Ryszard Kapuscinski.) Idyllwild Books is a very happening and cool bookstore at 12 West 19th street in NYC. They specialize in travel books, and have some foreign language and some great kids books too. It’s small, and it’s up in the mezzanine off the street. They also offer beginning language classes for the more popular Romance languages. It’s quickly become one of my two favourite bookstores here in NYC. The phone number is (212) 414-8888. Website at bottom of page.
Three Lives is another great small, independent bookstore, in the Village, at 154 West 10th and they also pick and choose their stock carefully. There is a table of staff suggestions and that’s where I originally picked up “Life and Fate.” Phone is (212) 741-2069. Again, website at bottom.
Everyone in both of these bookstores is a voracious reader and will happily help you make your choices.
Three Lives Books
Vasily Grossman Wiki
Monday, September 06, 2010
I’ve been enjoying the work of a few people who have absolutely nothing to do with essential oils or aromatics.
David Maisel is an artist whose work, “Library of Dust” has just thrilled me. I heard about him on npr and immediately went to look at his website.
“Library of Dust” involves copper canisters containing the unclaimed cremated remains of 3500 abandoned mental patients of the state-run Oregon State Mental Hospital, in Salem. The cremains date from the mid 1880s to the 1970s.
Over time, the copper canisters have changed, oxidized, with the minerals blooming exquisitely, as the copper reacts with the atmosphere outside and the ashes within.
It’s better to just go look for yourself.
David Maisel has show on at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, (at UC Riverside,) and has several other works you can see on his website, all disquieting, all compelling.
I can't seem to leave these pictures alone, they really touch something. You can go troll around his website. You'll probably want to take your time because all his work is really.....whatever it is. Not being someone who usually writes about art, most everything I try and say seems kind of lame, so I'll just post this, and besides Library of Dust, you can check out Terminal Mirage, the Lake Project, History's Shadow, Oblivion, The Mining Project, the Forest, Mount St. Helen's......that's probably all of it actually.
Some links are here