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Posts Tagged ‘Josef Stalin’

Animal Farm Timeline

April 12, 2013 | by

Cover of Snowball's Chance, 2002. Cover of Why Orwell Matters, 2002.

Cover of Snowball’s Chance, 2002. Cover of Why Orwell Matters, 2002.

Timeline to this Timeline

September 9, 2001, I’m walking down Lafayette Street with my wife. We’re close to my apartment, with the Tribeca sky, the sky of my youth, hovering above our destination. I have a title idea. “Snowball’s Chance,” I say, “there’s something to it.” She isn’t so sure.

Then, 9/11. Then, 9/13, I understand the title. Animal Farm. Snowball returns to the farm, bringing capitalism, which has its own pitfalls. I’ll turn the Cold War allegory on its head—apply Orwell’s thinking to what had happened in the fifty years since the end of World War II. Three weeks later I have a clean draft.

I start to think about publication, and run into a bump: the feeling in the publishing world, in the entertainment world, is that parody is about to lose its protected status in the United States. Several major lawsuits are underway (2 Live Crew, The Wind Done Gone), copyright has been extended indefinitely for major corporations, and the Supreme Court has never looked more conservative. Given the climate, and that parody is not protected in the United Kingdom, the Orwell estate announces itself “hostile” to my manuscript. The book is nevertheless released in 2002 (by a small but longstanding press, Roof Books), and supported in part by a state grant. At the same moment I see fit to attack Animal Farm as a Cold War allegory—an allegory that I see as conservative, xenophobic, and a bludgeon for radical thinking—Christopher Hitchens, who has taken a sharp turn to the right, sees the need to defend it. In Why Orwell Matters, also published in 2002, Hitchens attempted to apply Orwell’s later-life “Cold War,” a term he popularized, to a stance against terrorism. The media picks up on Hitchens, and Snowball as a counterpoint, and the books are accordingly praised or derided.

 

1879–1880

Nikolai Kostomarov, Stamp of Ukraine, 1992.

Nikolai Kostomarov, Stamp of Ukraine, 1992.

Nikolai Kostomarov (1817–1885) pens his story Animal Riot, a farmyard allegory that takes as its analog a hypothetical Russian revolution. A century later, in 1988, the English-language Economist will compare Kostomarov’s 8,500-word story to George Orwell’s 20,000-word Russian Revolution allegory, Animal Farm (which, unlike Animal Riot, ends badly), finding numerous points of comparison. For example, a bull in Animal Riot:

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Early Failures

February 5, 2013 | by

pbdepartToward the end of 1918, infantry from the U.S. Army’s 85th Division occupied Arkhangelsk, a city in North Russia on the shore of the White Sea. They had come with other Allied troops to rescue the stranded Czechoslovakian Legion, forty thousand soldiers abandoned after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Although Josef Stalin—at that time the Commissar of Foreign Nationalities for the newly formed Soviet Russian Republic—had agreed to the evacuation, he also had demands about how it should be done, including the legionnaires’ unconditional disarmament.

Instead, the Czechs decided to stockpile weapons as they withdrew. Before long, for a variety of reasons, the ceasefire collapsed, and the Czech legionnaires began a violent, almost hallucinogenic campaign to smash through Soviet defenses on their way to the Pacific Ocean. They demolished trainyards and captured cities. They destroyed bridges, commandeered armored locomotives, and inflicted devastating losses on the Red Guard.

Every military action carried them farther from Arkhangelsk. When the Americans—nicknamed the Polar Bears—finally arrived, they discovered no one to rescue and no real mission beyond skirmishing with Bolshevik sympathizers. In Europe, the Great War was ending; in North Russia, though, a strange, confused campaign had just begun. Read More »

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All in a Single String

August 8, 2012 | by

There’s a black-and-white photograph of me in my grandparents’ old Moscow apartment. I’m wearing a hand-knit wool dress, two white stripes down the front. My hair is a mess of tight curls around my head. A lopsided smile exposes my teeth. With my right hand, I’m petting a guitar that looks like it might be taller than I am. It is polished wood, dark around the edges, growing lighter toward the center, an intricate garland along its bottom edge. It’s my grandfather’s. It has seven strings.

“A guitar with six strings isn’t a guitar,” my grandfather tells me. “You can’t play on it. You can’t sing to it. It’s worthless. A guitar must have seven strings to be worth its name.” He stops. He closes his eyes. His voice takes on a new tone. “The seven-string guitar, that’s the real guitar. Its voice sings. That, that is the Russian guitar.” I don’t quite understand—to me, a guitar is a guitar—but I know enough to realize that the difference is real to him and that I should abandon my attempts, later, to get him to buy a regular guitar in any old American music shop. As much as he might love me and want to make me happy, he will never play a standard-issue instrument. He will keep searching for his lost seventh string—and if he doesn’t find it, I’ll never again have a chance to hear him play. The decision is final.

Some say the seven-string guitar, the semistrunka, was born with the Central European gypsies. A child of the lute-shaped torban, carried back by Ukrainian Cossacks from Flanders after their mercenary stint in the Thirty Years’ War. The torban, whose familiar bass notes distinguished it from other members of its family. Some say it came from the Turks, during their thirteenth-century migration from Abkhazia to Poltava—a descendant of the kobza, that other lute-like instrument that could have as few as three and as many as eight strings—and might not the number have been seven? Some say it is a child of the Renaissance, the flat-backed cittern—an instrument akin to the mandolin and the English guitar (the latter perhaps its closest relative). With its metallic strings, its popularity in song, and its quick spread over Europe, it seems not altogether unlikely—though the cittern had four strings or six, sometimes five. Not seven. The seven-string guitar has many creation myths. But the most accepted version is that, whatever its origins, it first came of age as a uniquely Russian instrument.

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Walk Like Updike, Live Like Lowell, Eat Your Words

April 4, 2012 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • RIP illustrator John Griffiths. A slideshow of his Penguin covers.
  • Speaking of covers, Meg Wolitzer asks whether male authors garner better ones.
  • The best spokesman for an Ernest Hemingway novel? Papa himself.
  • The world's first edible cookbook is printed on sheets of fresh pasta, blueprints for its own destruction that, when baked, turn into a lasagna.
  • Perhaps not shockingly, members of Russia's Public Chamber have criticized a school notebook, part of the Great Russians series, the cover of which features an image of Stalin in military regalia. The publishers, defiant, point out that in a recent TV contest, Stalin placed third in a vote on the country's “greatest historical figures.”
  • The Awl’s number-one tip for writing the Great American Novel? “Move out of Brooklyn.”
  • The big news in Salt Lake City was not that yours truly was there (although I was): luminaries of the horror genre converged on the Beehive State for the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards, where writers Joe McKinney and Allyson Byrd won big.
  • In which Ian McEwan helps his son with an essay on one of his own novels … and gets "a very low mark."
  • Sylvia Plath slept here (and take a peek into fourteen other writers' bedrooms).
  • Robert Lowell wrote here—on Manhattan’s West Sixty-seventh Street—and it can be yours for $685,000.
  • The Little House books are canonical—literally. Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiographical series join the Library of America.
  • John Updike predicted New York's newly announced 6 1/2 Avenue in a 1956 New Yorker article: “As a service to readers who are too frail or shy for good-natured hurly-burly, we decided to plot a course from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that would involve no contact with either Fifth or Sixth Avenue.”
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