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Secondhand Time
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets | Svetlana Alexievich
The magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literaturea symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing a new kind of literary genre, describing her work as a history of emotionsa history of the soul. Alexievichs distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation. In Secondhand Time, Alexievich chronicles the demise of communism. Everyday Russian citizens recount the past thirty years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what its like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacresbut also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia. Here is an account of life in the aftermath of an idea so powerful it once dominated a third of the world. A magnificent tapestry of the sorrows and triumphs of the human spirit woven by a master, Secondhand Time tells the stories that together make up the true history of a nation. Through the voices of those who confided in her, The Nation writes, Alexievich tells us about human nature, about our dreams, our choices, about good and evilin a word, about ourselves. Praise for Svetlana Alexievich and Secondhand Time For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.Nobel Prize Committee For the past thirty or forty years [Alexievich has] been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual, but [her work is] not really about a history of events. Its a history of emotions . . . a history of the soul.Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Secondhand Time [is Alexievichs] longest and most ambitious project to date: an effort to use an oral history of the nineties to understand Soviet and post-Soviet identity.The New Yorker In this spellbinding book, Svetlana Alexievich orchestrates a rich symphony of Russian voices telling their stories of love and death, joy and sorrow, as they try to make sense of the twentieth century, so tragic for their country.J. M. Coetzee [Alexievichs] books are woven from hundreds of interviews, in a hybrid form of reportage and oral history that has the quality of a documentary film on paper. But Alexievich is anything but a simple recorder and transcriber of found voices; she has a writerly voice of her own which emerges from the chorus she assembles, with great style and authority, and she shapes her investigations of Soviet and post-Soviet life and death into epic dramatic chronicles as universally essential as Greek tragedies. . . . A mighty documentarian and a mighty artist. Philip Gourevitch Alexievichs voices are those of the people no one cares about, but the ones whose lives constitute the vast majority of what history actually is.Keith Gessen From the Hardcover edition.
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review
Ruthiella
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Pickpick

#TwoTribes by Frankie goes to Hollywood was about the (futility of) the Cold War. Which makes me think of this amazing nonfiction oral history of the transition from the Soviet Era to the unbridled capitalism of the Wild Wild East. So many stories from real people. It made me think a lot about my own country‘s propaganda and indoctrination. #RedroseSeptember

arlenefinnigan Perfect! 2mo
Cinfhen Beautiful post and you just reminded me how much I‘d like to read this work. 2mo
Ruthiella @Cinfhen Thanks! It was a bit hard to get into at first-so many voices-but once I got used to the cacophony it was enthralling. 2mo
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Bertha_Mason

"We ascend from the underground. I look at Moscow with new eyes—its beauty now seems cold and uneasy. Moscow, do you care whether people like you or not?"
-author commentary after interviewing a group of Tajik migrant workers in their basement apartment

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Bertha_Mason
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-Aleksander Laskovich
Been exactly, exactly there with MY dad and various books on "christian female purity" I was supposed to read.

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Bertha_Mason

"But I didn‘t even know what I was yet. I‘d never liked being a boy, I didn‘t like playing war. But no one ever asked me what I wanted…Everyone made the decisions for me."
-Aleksander Laskovich
As a trans person, that hits me so hard. ??

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Bertha_Mason

"Domodedovo Airport" is really fun to say.

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Bertha_Mason

"A Russian stands on three legs: "perhaps," "perchance," and "sometime maybe.""

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Bertha_Mason

The attitudes toward Chechens after the Moscow subway attack remind me strongly of our post-9/11 Islamophobia, including the wholesale denial of any part our country played in radicalizing people there. This interviewee said she wanted to kill all Chechens. My mom said the same about Iraqis when my cousin died fighting in the so-called "war on terror," even knowing he was killed by friendly fire. I just have to shake my head emphatically at both.

Bertha_Mason The same interviewee condemned Yelena Mazanik for blowing up some Nazis in their home during World War II. I'm not surprised that that's where her sympathy lies. It was dear old fuhrer and mutter's fault that their children were killed. Yelena Mazanik was a hero for doing that. No sympathy for nazis or nazi sympathizers. Fuck that shit. 3mo
Bertha_Mason I skipped the rest of her interview. I was too pissed. At best, I wouldn't have gotten anything from it in that triggered, shut-down state. Yes, triggered. The things my abusive parents said after 9/11 terrified me. I wondered whether there was something I could do that would make them hate ME that way someday. And what they would do to me when that happened. 3mo
4 likes2 comments
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Bertha_Mason

I had to skip an ayn rand fangirl's interview. I read the author's interviews with some real ghouls--some pro-capitalist, some Soviet or pro-Soviet--but absolutely no one who reads and likes ayn rand has a single thing to say that's worth reading. Especially six fucking pages' worth of it.

Leftcoastzen I hear that! 3mo
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Bertha_Mason

"I pace and pace the circles of pain, I can‘t break out of them. Pain has everything: darkness, triumph. Sometimes I think that pain is a bridge between people, a secret connection; other times, it seems like an abyss."
-author commentary

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Bertha_Mason

"I didn‘t vote for these bastards, I voted for other bastards!"
-2012 anti-putin-administration protest sign.
Ain't that just modern electoral politics in a nutshell? ?

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Bertha_Mason

"Democracy! That‘s a funny word in Russia. “Putin the Democrat” is our shortest joke."

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Bertha_Mason

"Even Stalin…even he‘d say, “I‘m not the one who decides, it‘s the Party.” He taught his son: You think that I‘m Stalin—you‘re wrong! That‘s Stalin! And he‘d point to the portrait of himself hanging on the wall. Not at himself, but at his portrait."
-anonymous son of Anna M.

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Bertha_Mason

"Happy people are always like children. They need to be protected, they‘re delicate and funny. Vulnerable."
-Olga Karimova

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Bertha_Mason

"You need a lot of energy for love, and I‘m a different person now. I‘ve grown ordinary."
-Vera Poglazov

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Bertha_Mason

"Principles? Bureaucrats have no convictions, principles, or any of those muddled metaphysical ideals. The most important thing is holding on to your seat, keeping your palms greased. Bureaucracy is our hobby horse. Lenin himself considered bureaucracy a greater threat than Denikin. The only thing that‘s valued is personal loyalty—never forget who owns you, whose hand is feeding you."
-N

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Bertha_Mason
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-Margarita Pogrebitskaya

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Bertha_Mason

"My memories…I refuse to give them up for anyone: not the communists, not the democrats, not the brokers. They‘re mine! All mine![...]I can do without a lot of things, the only thing I can‘t do without is the past."
-Margarita Pogrebitskaya

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Bertha_Mason

This book should be required reading for #resistance people who, when rightly denouncing trump and putin for fucking with our election, casually show that they think Russia is still a communist country. Jarring when the "comrade trump" rhetoric comes from people who were adults when the USSR fell in the nineties.

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Bertha_Mason

"We‘re the electorate now. Our job is to go and vote for the right candidate then call it a day. I was sick one time and didn‘t make it to the polling station, so they drove over here themselves. With a red box. That‘s the one day they actually remember us."
-Marina Tikhonovna Isaichik

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Bertha_Mason

"I remember my father‘s words: “It‘s possible to survive the camps, but you can‘t survive other people.” He‘d also say, “You die today, I‘ll die tomorrow—the first time I heard these words wasn‘t in the camps, it was from our neighbor Kaprusha…""
-Elena Yurievna

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Bertha_Mason

"I‘m an atheist. I have a lot of questions for God."
-Elena Yurievna
Gawd, how trauma breaks reality into pieces. Realities jostling in the same life.

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Bertha_Mason

"I‘m a drinking man. Why do I drink? I don‘t like my life. I want to do an impossible somersault and, with the help of alcohol, transport myself to another place where everything is good and beautiful."
Big mood.

The_Real_Nani I found this book fascinating but it was taking me too long to read so I DNF‘d! 3mo
Bertha_Mason @The_Real_Nani I'm glad you got so much out of it. :) Sorry it took so long to read. 3mo
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Bertha_Mason

"By the very entrance of the Metro, I can still hear snatches of a drunken folk ditty: "All the bad stuff can fuck off! And the good stuff fuck right on!""
-author commentary
Mood.

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Bertha_Mason

I haven't attributed the interview quotes because so far the author hasn't. My best guess is that the interviewees asked to remain anonymous.

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Bertha_Mason

"My father‘s brother never returned. Vanished. We still don‘t know whether it was in jail or the camps. It was hard for me, but I asked her the question that had been tormenting me, "Aunt Olga, why did you [turn him in]?" [She said,] "Show me an honest person who survived Stalin‘s time.""

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Bertha_Mason

"When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as chemically pure evil."

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Bertha_Mason

The Russian transition to capitalism reminds me of a kid who gets caught smoking and their parents make them smoke the whole pack. 😢😭

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Bertha_Mason

"Solzhenitsyn came back from America, and everyone fell at his feet. But he didn‘t understand us, and we didn‘t understand him. He was a foreigner. He‘d returned to Russia but found Chicago in its place…"

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Bertha_Mason

"Today, they accuse us of fighting for capitalism…That‘s not true! I was defending socialism, but some other kind, not the Soviet kind—that‘s what I was standing up for! Or at least that‘s what I thought."

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Bertha_Mason
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Bertha_Mason
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review
Centique
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Pickpick

Man, this book. It bears witness to dozens of atrocities, some of the worst things mankind has ever inflicted on mankind. And yet it may be the best book I‘ve read this year. It‘s made me think so hard - about violence and the nature of humanity, government and revolution.
Many people will find this too brutal - but there is something hopeful in knowing that these stories have been captured, their words have been heard all around the world.

charl08 I agree, for me it was just an amazing book! I'm looking forward to reading her book about children next. 3mo
Ruthiella I planning on picking this up next! I already have it out from the library.😀 3mo
Centique @Ruthiella I‘ll be so interested to hear your thoughts! By the way, I found the first chapter/section a bit choppy and difficult - but it gets better - the interviews get longer and easier to follow after that part. 3mo
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Centique
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Through a sheer fluke I am reading a woman in translation during Woman in Translation month. Well thank you serendipity 😉

It‘s very good so far - and quite jaw dropping to think that perestroika happened during my lifetime and I know so little about it. My Belarusian friend is going to be a little bit impressed if I finish this chunkster - Alexievich is from Belarus.

Moray_Reads need to read more from Alexeivich. I loved Chernobyl Prayer 3mo
Billypar Read this late last year and was completely amazed. Such a wide range of voices, some with stories of horrible tragedies, and others with widely different views of the cultural moment they were living in. I don't know how Alexievich got so many people to open up to her, but the results are incredible. 3mo
underground_bks This is SO GOOD, but also get yourself a treat, things are dark! 3mo
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Reggie I already have this stacked but it sounds so good!! 3mo
Centique @Billypar @underground_bks I‘m about halfway and completely gripped by it. Definitely traumatic though 😱 3mo
Centique @Moray_Reads haven‘t read that yet but I‘ve heard amazing things about it 3mo
Centique @Reggie it will blow your mind I think - it‘s blown mine 🤯 3mo
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review
chapter_fifty2017
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Pickpick

This book is amazing and full of revelations about Russia then and now. I was very unaware of what was happening in Russia around the fall of communism , and this oral history isn't for the fainthearted. It's an eye opener , it's shocking and it happened , still happens around the world whilst it portrays the breakdown of one political system it reflects the shadow side of capitalism , and the many problems that comes with it today.

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underground_bks
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Pickpick

Alexievich‘s distinctive, Nobel winning history writing is immersive, oceanic. Submerged in the historical moment, voices arise like tides, and each story, full of the exhilarations and horrors of humanity, carries you away. This is a fascinating study of those left behind in the wake of the USSR. These stories left a deep impression on my understanding not only of history but of how humans cope with the creation and destruction of an idea.

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Centique
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#wanderingjune #russians

This nonfiction behemoth is coming up on my TBR soon. I see @Billypar had some good things to say so I think I will be able to get through it! I have two important people in my life from ex USSR countries - one of whom has been sharp with me about how little everyone in NZ knows about Russia and Eastern Europe - she‘s 6 foot 2 and practically an ice goddess so i think I better get onto reading it!

Cinfhen Oh wow!!! Sounds incredible but dense!! Let me know your thoughts. 5mo
Trashcanman I want soup with lamb in it! Trouble breathing but it's OK. Have a great Thursday 5mo
Centique @Trashcanman I am making a lamb curry tomorrow! Hop on a plane (maybe a metaphysical one) and come join us 😘 Hope your breathing improves. A cold or asthma or something? 5mo
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Trashcanman @Centique No, it's from medicine I take for my mental defectivness. It lowers my heart rate and breathing. It's fun sometimes because I play with the kingdom that lives on my ceiling. I love lamb but I prefer goat. But they're both yummy. 5mo
Centique @Trashcanman ah side effects of medicines - it‘s a real circus of possibilities 😬. I commiserate. It‘s not a patch on yours - but Ive been known to play poker without cards or opponents when on morphine or tramadol. Anyway I‘ll save you some curry my friend! 💕 5mo
Trashcanman @Centique thank you. Put a plate out for me. I love morphine, hydromorphine especially. Dilauded is king. Good day! 5mo
BarbaraBB Russia and Eastern Europe were the main subject when I graduated high school in the 80s. Cold War was still hot then and an obligatory subject for us Western Europe kids! 5mo
Billypar Eager to hear what you think! Early on, I thought- 'there's no way I'm going to be able to finish this, but I'll listen to a little more'. And I kept thinking that for awhile, but the voices she captures demand to be heard--and it's filled with so many wildly different perspectives and experiences. 5mo
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review
Billypar
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Pickpick

An encyclopedia of human evil and misery, yet still a testimony to how vital it is for people to tell the stories of their lives, no matter how painful. Although these interviews were conducted in the two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, the stories capture a much wider range as some recalled the time of Stalin and how much society changed overnight. A bitter change for some and disappointing for others, but bleak for almost all: 👇

Billypar these stories are filled with alcoholic and abusive husbands, inhuman soldiers, corrupt officials, cutthroat gangsters, and suicide. And lots of salami, oddly enough. At 23 hours on the audio version, this is difficult to stick with, but I'm glad I did- Alexandrievich's method of mixing longer interviews with short reactions, all running the gamut in age, situation, and political perspective is both effective and emotionally exhausting. 11mo
saresmoore Excellent review. It seems I‘ll need to prepare myself to read this one. 11mo
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Leftcoastzen Wow sounds absolutely amazing and awful! Stacked! 11mo
Billypar @saresmoore @Leftcoastzen Yes- awful and amazing, so be prepared! I won't pretend I didn't consider bailing a few times, but there's so much packed into these narratives that it became impossible to quit. 11mo
GatheringBooks what an awesome literary journey you‘ve had this year!! 11mo
Billypar @GatheringBooks I've enjoyed it so much! I had such great luck with books this year, and loved reading from so many countries that were firsts for me. I still have one more review to post- my 2018 LitWorld journey ended in 19th century Norway. 11mo
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review
rachelk
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Pickpick

Spanning 30 years, everyday Russians tell their life stories during the fall of the Soviet Union. Heartbreaking, terrifying and surprisingly nostalgic — it may be impossible for outsiders to truly understand Russia, but I think ‘Secondhand Time‘ helps. #nonfiction #Russia

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rachelk
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Happy National Read a Book Day (U.S.A.). Here‘s what I‘ve got going — what are you reading today?

#nationalreadabookday #nobelprize

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UrsulaMonarch
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Pickpick

This is an amazing book on its own merits. It is both beautiful and horrifying, as well as incredibly informative. I agree with @REPollock that it should be read in small doses or it is overwhelming.

Furthermore, reading it in today's 🇺🇸political climate is illustrative, sadly.

REPollock Oh yes, sadly. So many of the differences voices I found quite familiar, like the passage you featured in the image. 2y
UrsulaMonarch @REPollock well put - VERY familiar. Which was interesting in an abstract, "people are the same around the world" sense, but sad & disturbing in the sentiments often being expressed ? 2y
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review
REPollock
Pickpick

Oof, I found this an immensely helpful read in getting a grasp on the psychology of people who lived under a dubiously-socialist totalitarian regime, then witnessed its fall, but WOW IS IT DEPRESSING.

You literally cannot read this all in one go, unless maybe you‘re a sociopath. I took a lot of breaks and had several other books going too. Invaluable work, deserves the awards, grim AF.

UrsulaMonarch 💯 agree with your review!! 2y
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REPollock
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I am only going away for three days, yet clearly I need to pack all of these. Plus four magazines. 🤪🙃😜

PerksOfBeingABookworm I do the same thing. It's good to have options to choose from depending on your mood. And you can't predict that (which is how I justify packing more books than clothes on weekend trips :) 2y
REPollock @PerksOfBeingABookworm exactly! And you never know when you might need to kill a lot of time waiting for weather delay or whatever. Plus nothing compares to a physical book for projecting the “leave me alone” vibe. 2y
PerksOfBeingABookworm Yes! The "leave me alone" vibe. Great for both family members and strangers. My least favorite people are the ones who don't understand that I don't want to be interrupted me while I'm reading. 2y
batsy This seems perfectly reasonable to me! 😀 2y
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UrsulaMonarch
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Even though this book illuminates why former Soviets would feel this way, it's still shocking.

UrsulaMonarch And this book continues to be amazing paired with another that observes similar sentiments: 2y
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REPollock
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This book is heavy. It‘s also weirdly comforting.

UrsulaMonarch I'm interested to hear more about the comforting aspect! I'm finding it pretty disturbing and/but intensely human & fascinating 2y
REPollock @Lkelly1 I guess comforting in that the voices in it have a breadth of responses to the drastic changes that came about, which runs counter to the capitalist propaganda I grew up with in which Soviets were either evil KGB or terribly oppressed people who just desperately wanted blue jeans. 2y
UrsulaMonarch @REPollock that is a great point! 2y
8 likes3 comments
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tricours
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Pickpick

This was long. Not as fascinating or horrifying as War‘s unwomanly face or Chernobyl Prayer, but good nonetheless. The amount of alcoholic and abusive men in this book is staggering, and the Soviets sure were preoccupied with the idea of sausages, but the most striking part of the book for me is the war in Chechnya, pogroms in Azerbaijan and the immigration wave from post-Soviet states. I want to read more about that.

REPollock I am to the point where I‘m laughing every time someone gets rhapsodic about sausage. Finding my own comic relief among so much tragedy/horror/grimness I guess. 2y
38 likes1 stack add2 comments
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UrsulaMonarch
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#rockabye #decdays

This book has a lot of descriptions of the devastation (and some joy) of Soviet childhoods, but I just read the part about two sisters, one of whom is in an orphanage for a while - BRUTAL

Somewhat surreal to read while the new American in the background snoozes.

Cinfhen Awww, he's so sweet!!! How are you feeling?!?? 2y
UrsulaMonarch @Cinfhen pretty good! Although I should probably be sleeping while he sleeps, instead of reading! 😂😬😴 2y
Cinfhen I was thinking that!!! I was amazed you were awake & reading! Go Get Some Rest 💙 2y
Centique Oh what a tiny bundle he is! Just gorgeous💕 2y
readordierachel Awww. Cute!! 2y
15 likes5 comments
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tricours
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My goal for this month: to finish this beast. I find it much slower to get through than her other books that I‘ve read.

BarbaraBB You read it in Russian? Impressive! 2y
tricours Yes, so it takes even longer! @BarbaraBB 2y
UrsulaMonarch I'm going through it slowly too (in English!) partially because I can only bear so much of it at a time! 2y
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tricours @Lkelly have you read any of her other books? 2y
UrsulaMonarch @tricours not yet! Started with this one but looking forward to the Unwomanly Face of War 2y
tricours @Lkelly that‘s my favorite so far! 2y
UrsulaMonarch @tricours ooo looking forward to it more now! Although at the rate I'm getting through this one it will be a while 😂 2y
tricours @Lkelly it‘s not the one I would recommend people to start with, it‘s really very heavy! 2y
tricours @Lkelly secondhand time that is 2y
UrsulaMonarch @tricours makes sense!! It's good - but heavy indeed!! 2y
38 likes10 comments
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REPollock
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This strikes me as deeply Russian.

This book is not a quick read but the nonfiction narrative collage structure makes it easy to dip into in episodes.

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REPollock
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Also I love the covert mimeographed library action here!

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REPollock
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This is about Russia after the fall of the USSR, but it feels relevant in general.