"Whatever the circumstances, Russians have never lost their deep love for literature. In fact, the worst of times, the best of books as its great 19th century literature stands testimony to: Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov and a galaxy of several others. And the same tradition continued after the Revolution under the excesses of collectivisation and the Great purges of the 30s with writers like Gorky, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Babel, Marina Tsvetava and Boris Pasternak, whose persecutions were both “brutal and exquisite”.
In Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History, which is history-cum-travelogue, Rachel Polonsky, a Cambridge academician, asks whether “there is a set of secret maps to be found among a person’s books, a way through the fortifications of the self” that would explain why a person’s deep love and apparent appreciation of literature (and culture in the larger sense) can be responsible for the execution of so many writers during the purges. Is this because, as the Russian scholar Dmitri Likhachev said, “the Russian people perish from an excess of space” that makes its literature “the most significant, the most tragic, the most philosophical”? These are the underlying questions, often asked about the relationship between suffering and literature, that Polonsky pursues in her book as she travels around the former Soviet empire to revisit the ghosts of great Russian writers of the past."
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