Guide Molotovs Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History

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Molotov's Magic Lantern | Rachel Polonsky | Macmillan

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Average rating: 3 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews. Petersburg, from Molotov's dacha to Varlam Shalamov's Siberian prison camp, with her head in the clouds and her eyes poring over the opened books: "Which came first, [Shalamov] wondered, the Kremlin towers or the watchtowers? The watchtower of the Gulag zone, he decided, was the architectural symbol - the principal idea - of his time. In spite of her disorienting ventures and self-conscious prose, Polonsky successfully communicates the religious reverence that few cultures outside of Russia have for literature: "After decades of absolute hunger for books in the Gulag, [Shalamov] perceived the hunger for books as the condition of his childhood, the condition of his whole life.

His primal hunger was such that no number of books could ever slake it. There is no sweeter thing, he said, than the sight of an unread book. But history's villain really is a villain. Stalin, the once-budding poet, and Molotov, the keen book collector, whose favorite author was the ever-humane Chekhov, were able to suppress all the moral sense that the arts seem to cultivate: "It was Molotov who put men like Shalamov and [the poet Osip] Mandelstam on trains bound for hell.

Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Rachel Polonsky

Molotov, who considered 'all talk of morality and humanism false through and through. WH drops objection to whistleblower speaking to Congress. Opinion: Democrats' impeachment gamble could pay off. Analysis: Why Ukraine allegations broke dam on impeachment. Senate approves resolution calling for whistleblower complaint. It was also a way of bringing back the good people who had lived in it, and its original purpose, which was to be a home to civilized families. I am still haunted by the many stories I did not uncover, the stories I did not have the space to tell in "Molotov's Magic Lantern," the secrets the building still keeps.

The hypocrisy of Communist elites living in a luxurious old-world building as a reward for helping to create a new classless society seems overwhelming. How do you think that Molotov and his colleagues justified this to themselves? When No. It was during the Civil War between the Reds and the Whites. There were terrible food shortages; living conditions were rough and precarious for most people in Moscow.

At that time, the lifestyles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries would not have been luxurious at all. That changed quickly as the new regime established itself after victory in the Civil War, when the Party's pragmatic New Economic Policy was introduced to try to end the shortages, and a free market in consumer goods was reintroduced, though living conditions were still turbulent, and not at all "bourgeois" for anyone. Later in the s, the Bolshevik elite became more openly comfort-loving.

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Stalin's great enemy, the revolutionary Trotsky, who was dragged out of the building by the secret police to be sent into exile at the end of the s, railed against the Stalinist elite, ridiculing them as a new bourgeoisie. He despised the way in which they had quickly been seduced by what he called the "automobile and harem" culture of privilege, at how they drank wine and attended the ballet and gossiped when they should have been working night and day for world revolution.

Molotov himself expressed discomfort about the comfort-loving habits of the Party elite; he could not justify it according to the Marxist theory that he believed should guide his life. He was rather ascetic in his own personal habits, we are told, but his wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina who was sent to the Gulag in famously loved the high life. She visited spas, wore furs and fine scent, loved cut flowers and dinner parties and hosting private music recitals. Soviet society was rigidly hierarchical, and the people at the top soon developed a sense of entitlement.

Did you feel that you came to know Molotov the man as you lived in his building and browsed in his library? What did you feel about him as a person? I felt that through my contact with the remains of his library and what I saw was just fragments of a formerly huge collection of books , I was able to approach his life story in a new way, and indeed, to think about books and libraries in a new way. I was able to contemplate him as a reader, as a serious reader, as someone who revered books, for all his fanaticism and the terrible crimes he committed.

I learned what I could about him from other sources, from records of wide-ranging conversations he had late in life, from published biographies, including a very thorough and revealing biography by his distinguished grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov. Molotov put ideas before people, and was able to sentence to death people who had considered him a friend, and to appease his own conscience.

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He proposed using numbers rather than names on death lists; he wanted to distance himself from the humanity of other people. He loved his wife dearly, but he did not intervene to prevent her arrest, or even speak up against it. Books can be easier to love and cherish than other people for a man like that.

Do you think the Russian national character was altered by Communism — or is it more powerful than any ideology? I find it hard to talk about "national character" — although, as I think the cultural historian Ernst Gombrich said once, anyone who has traveled is aware that there is such a thing as national character.

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Soviet Communism lasted for the best part of a century — it was its own kind of civilization and belief system. It formed ways of life, habits of behaviour, social attitudes, which it exported to other nations, and which have lasted.