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Sheila Fitzpatrick: File-Selves, 22 September 2022

... according to the inflexible British rule of the time, was in my newly acquired married name: Mrs Sheila Bruce. I mentally repudiated this British ‘Mrs Bruce’ as a meaningless bureaucratic construct without a history or a place in the world. (Was she English? Scottish? Northern Irish? Did she take on Alex’s working-class South Shields origins, even ...


Sheila Fitzpatrick: Remembering my father, 8 February 2007

... mores because they were so different from home ones: around the same time, this led to a Hate Sheila campaign, which caused me to skip a grade and later arrive at university a callow and undersized 16. My father was better at handling (as well as creating) awkward situations. We both had poor eyesight, which meant that I never greeted people in the street ...

On the Banks of the Tom

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 10 November 1994

Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans in Soviet Russia 
translated and edited by William Edgerton.
Indiana, 308 pp., £25, September 1993, 0 253 31911 0
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... Leo Tolstoy was not only a great writer but also a passionately outspoken public moralist in the Russian prophetic mode followed a century later by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A political presence because of his impact on public opinion, he steered clear of direct political involvement. He was above politics. ‘On the one hand,’ Lenin wrote of him in 1908, ‘we have a remarkably powerful, direct and sincere protest against social lies and falsehood, while on the other we have the Tolstoyan, i ...


Sheila Fitzpatrick: A Leninist version of Soviet history, 1 September 2005

The Soviet Century 
by Moshe Lewin, edited by Gregory Elliott.
Verso, 416 pp., £25, February 2005, 1 84467 016 3
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... When I was growing up in Australia in the late 1950s and 1960s, the displaced European intellectual turned academic was a familiar figure on university campuses. Refugees from totalitarian and wartime Europe, conversant with Marx and Weber, polyglot and multilingual (but always with strongly accented English), veterans of complicated doctrinal wars in the sectarian world of European socialism, these rumpled figures, whom it was impossible to imagine had ever been young, provoked awed attention in some students and light-hearted mockery in others ...

Commotion in Moscow

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Paris Syndrome, 1 August 2019

To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture 
by Eleonory Gilburd.
Harvard, 458 pp., £28.95, January 2019, 978 0 674 98071 6
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... Paris​ can be a dangerous place to visit. The Japanese are said to be particularly vulnerable to the medically recognised condition called ‘Paris syndrome’, which inflicts anxiety, depersonalisation and dizziness on those whose expectations are too high. Soviet Russians, though less prone to physical collapse than the Japanese, were even more heavily invested in Paris as the Mecca of civilised cultural pilgrimage ...

Better to bend the stick too far

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The history of Russia, 4 February 1999

A History of 20th-Century Russia 
by Robert Service.
Allen Lane, 654 pp., £25, July 1998, 0 7139 9148 8
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... Has 20th-century Russia a history? The problem is that Russia – or, to be precise, the Russian Federation – became a nation state, or something approximating to it, only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For nearly seventy years (1923-1991), it was part of the Soviet Union; for the first 17 years of the century, it was part of the multinational empire ruled by the Romanovs ...

Frisson of Electric Sparkle

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Scratch ’n’ Sniff, 15 July 2021

The Scent of Empires: Chanel No. 5 and Red Moscow 
by Karl Schlögel, translated by Jessica Spengler.
Polity, 201 pp., £20, May, 978 1 5095 4659 6
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... Quelle est cette odeur agréable/Bergers, qui ravit tous nos sens?’ In the old French carol, the shepherds to whom the angel announces the birth of Christ are first struck by a ravishing scent they can’t identify, then by a great light, and finally by heavenly sounds. This introduction of a smell to the Annunciation story has no biblical justification, as far as I can discover, but it certainly stakes a claim for smell in a hierarchy of the senses ...

Get your story straight

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Soviet Nationhood, 2 December 2021

The Soviet Myth of World War Two: Patriotic Memory and the Russian Question in the USSR 
by Jonathan Brunstedt.
Cambridge, 306 pp., £29.99, July 2021, 978 1 108 49875 3
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Nested Nationalism: Making and Unmaking Nations in the Soviet Caucasus 
by Krista A. Goff.
Cornell, 319 pp., £41, January 2021, 978 1 5017 5327 5
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... It’s​ a puzzle to know how to think about the Soviet Union, now that it is gone. Was it a Russian empire in disguise, which broke apart when its oppressed colonies finally liberated themselves? Was it a benevolent federation in which the Russian big brother generously subsidised its younger siblings and paid for their education? Or was it, perhaps, a multinational state in which the leaders of its constituent republics acquired so much freedom of action that in the end they could just walk out of the union and declare themselves presidents of sovereign nations?The first version is understandably the most popular ...

Reasons for Not Going Back

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Displaced by WWII, 11 April 2013

In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order 
by Gerard Daniel Cohen.
Oxford, 237 pp., £22.50, December 2012, 978 0 19 539968 4
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... The magnitude of the problem is such as to cause the heart to sink,’ a member of the Fabian Society wrote in 1943, contemplating the hordes of uprooted people who would need resettlement when the Second World War was over. The International Labour Organisation estimated that 30 million had been ‘transplanted or torn from their homes’ since the beginning of the war ...

Zanchevsky, Zakrevsky or Zakovsky?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Julian Barnes, 18 February 2016

The Noise of Time 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 184 pp., £14.99, January 2016, 978 1 910702 60 4
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... The figure​ on the jacket – round glasses, hair flopping over forehead, wary stance, music case in hand – is unmistakably Shostakovich. Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich is also the name of the protagonist, a famous and famously persecuted Soviet composer, whose interior monologue is presented in this new novel by Julian Barnes. So there’s no mistaking the real-life basis of the book, even if you don’t read the acknowledgments, where Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered and Solomon Volkov’s Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich are cited as sources ...

A Spy in the Archives

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Was I a spy?, 2 December 2010

... believe in Mary as my name, and in any case it turned out that all educated Russians knew the name Sheila – which had an easy diminutive, Shaylochka – because they had read C.P. Snow.) It was impossible to live in the Soviet Union as a foreigner and not become obsessed with spying. (If anyone doubts this, read Michael Frayn’s wonderful novel The Russian ...

The Good Old Days

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Dacha-Owning Classes, 9 October 2003

Summerfolk 1710-2000: A History of the Dacha 
by Stephen Lovell.
Cornell, 259 pp., £18.95, April 2003, 0 8014 4071 8
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Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc 
edited by David Crowley and Susan Reid.
Berg, 261 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 1 85973 533 9
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Caviar with Champagne: Common Luxury and the Ideals of the Good Life in Stalin’s Russia 
by Jukka Gronow.
Berg, 179 pp., £15.99, October 2003, 1 85973 633 5
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The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism 
by Caroline Humphrey.
Cornell, 265 pp., £13.95, May 2002, 0 8014 8773 0
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... Who could ever forget everyday life in the old Soviet Union? The sheer oddness of the way the place functioned, the incongruity between functioning and pretension. The discomfort and inconvenience, the drabness, the constant shortages and roundabout ways of getting things, the ubiquity of pull and patronage, the insignificance of money, the awfulness of officials, the splendid company of friends talking philosophy around kitchen tables, the sense of being caught in a time warp that was supposed to be the future but felt like the past ...

Normal People

Sheila Fitzpatrick: SovietSpeak, 25 May 2006

Everything Was For Ever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation 
by Alexei Yurchak.
Princeton, 331 pp., £15.95, December 2005, 0 691 12117 6
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... If there is a prize for best title of the year, this book surely deserves it. Alexei Yurchak, a Russian-born, US-trained anthropologist, has written an interesting and provocative book about the way young Soviet Russians talked in the Brezhnev period and what they meant by what they said. For Yurchak, discourse is everything: there is no ‘real world’ outside the world we construct via language ...

Deaths at Two O’Clock

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Suicide in the USSR, 17 February 2011

Lost to the Collective: Suicide and the Promise of Soviet Socialism, 1921-29 
by Kenneth Pinnow.
Cornell, 276 pp., £32.95, March 2011, 978 0 8014 4766 2
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... Say you are killing yourself in the name of the Russian intelligentsia, and you will die like a hero. That one shot will awaken the sleeping conscience of this country … Your name will become a household word. Your death will be the topic of the day. Your picture will be in all the papers … The Russian intelligentsia will gather about your coffin ...

Voldemort or Stalin?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Shostakovich, 1 December 2011

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets 
by Wendy Lesser.
Yale, 350 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 300 16933 1
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 
by Judith Kuhn.
Ashgate, 296 pp., £65, February 2010, 978 0 7546 6406 2
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... Dmitry Shostakovich was once seen in the West as the quintessential Soviet loyalist. Avant-garde composers despised him and official descriptions of him as a ‘fighter for peace’, ‘progress’ and ‘humanism’ didn’t help his reputation in the world outside. Things he himself said over the years appeared to confirm the Soviet image: his Third Symphony (1930) was entitled First of May and a Soviet music journal reported him as saying in 1940 that ‘to write a symphony immortalising Lenin’s name’ had always been his ‘cherished dream’ (though he never did write one ...

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