‘A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West’ by Luke Harding outlines the chilling murder of a Russian dissident which resulted in the rapid deterioration of Moscow’s relationship with the West. Former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko fled to London in 2000 with his wife and son after publicly criticising the Kremlin and later worked as a journalist and consultant for MI6. He was poisoned with polonium at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair in November 2006 and the subsequent investigation into his murder has had a significant impact on Anglo-Russian relations over the past decade. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Russia
‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes is a fictional account of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most famous Russian composers of the twentieth century. The novel focuses on three key points in his life at twelve-year intervals. In the first part, Shostakovich is waiting by a lift shaft expecting the secret police to take him away and interrogate him at The Big House during the height of the purges in 1936. In the second part, he travels to the United States to deliver a speech on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1948. In the final part set in 1960, he is asked to become a party member under Khrushchev. Continue reading
When you have a reading list as long as mine and you don’t know what to choose next, sometimes it’s just easier to just start at the top. A book which had been lingering for a long time on my list was ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov, a fantastical satire about Soviet Russia widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature. Although difficult to summarise a plot as such, ‘The Master and Margarita’ is essentially a story about the devil in the form of Woland the magician who visits Moscow and wreaks havoc with his accomplices including Behemoth, a cigar-smoking vodka-drinking cat. Embedded in the story is another novel written by the unnamed Master who has been incarcerated for writing a book about the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Nozri (or Jesus Christ) while his former lover, Margarita, seeks help from Woland to be reunited with him. Continue reading
I was fascinated by the original premise of ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney which is based on the true story of Melita Norwood who was famously unmasked as the KGB’s longest serving British spy at the age of eighty-seven in 1999. In Rooney’s fictionalised version of events, Joan Stanley, an eighty-five year old woman living in the suburbs of south east London, receives a visit from two British intelligence operatives who have come to question her about her past after so many decades of silence. The story is cleverly told through a series of flashbacks as the links between Joan’s past and present are gradually revealed.
I’m a little bit slow when it comes to reading the Man Booker Prize winners and nominees. I haven’t read any of the books on this year’s shortlist yet and ‘Snowdrops’ by A. D. Miller is only the second book on last year’s shortlist that I have read so far. It tells the story of Nick Platt, a British lawyer in his thirties living in Moscow. After meeting Masha who soon becomes his girlfriend, Nick gets involved in a property deal. This being Russia, let’s just say it doesn’t go quite as planned…
I was born somewhere between the Berlin Wall coming down and the Soviet Union completely disintegrating so I have no memory of the Cold War divide that dominated the world for nearly half of the twentieth century, but even I realise that the publication of ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1962 in both the Soviet Union itself and Western countries was pretty significant to say the least. Based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experience of the gulag system, this short novella tells the story of a Soviet prisoner or zek, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in his eighth year of a ten year sentence for espionage for the Germans (a false accusation). This shattering depiction of life in the Stalinist-era labour camps won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 – and got Solzhenitsyn permanently expelled from the Soviet Union a few years later. Continue reading