RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksGroskop has continually surprising reflections, having steeped herself, in the meantime, in a dozen authors’ biographies. She isn’t trying to unearth new gems or evangelize for the overlooked; this is a star show about books and writers so famous that Groskop can compare them to celebrated films ... I’m damned if I’ve met three recreational readers as astute and amusing as she is about everyone from Flaubert to Françoise Sagan. She knows she’s funny telling stories of her own follies and pretensions and of her girlhood ambitions to master French while growing up in Somerset, England ... Reading Groskop, we lose our academic pretensions and realize our love for literature—that is, for books that measure themselves against life rather than against the latest grad-school fad ... Groskop is the best book buddy I’ve never met.
Anton Chekhov, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor\"Pevear and Volokhonsky, who have long lived in Paris, seem to have gone tone-deaf to a natural English; at times the language seems unpolished, with evidence of Russian phrasing seeming to override normal English syntax ... Chekhov is so great, however, that even uninspired translations can’t ruin him ... But if you have never read Chekhov and you start from the beginning of this volume, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering what all the fuss is about. Either read any other translator’s collection first...or skip to about the middle of this book, to \'The Kiss,\' and read on from there.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksWheeler mostly keeps her assessments of Russian literature modest. Rather than trying to match the exuberance and wit of Viv Groskop’s The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature, she seems to tamp down her arch personality, and as patiently as a cat allows her co-travelers, guides, and hosts to reveal themselves ... Wheeler sometimes seems the intrepid star of a comic travel show ... Wheeler time travels back and forth from present to past. The present, though, is always the more immediate, livelier, more chaotic environment in her book ... She is just as amusing, and illuminating, when describing the meals she encounters on her travels and then tries to recreate at home ... As for Tolstoy, my own favorite, with whom Wheeler concludes her tour, I think she must have been a little weary at Yasnaya Polyana; she stumbles over a few details and lets glibness get the better of her ... Wheeler is wonderful company. I hope Mud and Stars inspires hardy souls to visit these literary sites.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorHe is at his best and most convincing describing the political manipulation and compromises that controlled the reality shows he worked for and censored the profiles he put together. Many of the scandalous stories he tells are \'director’s cut\' versions; whenever he highlighted the corruption in the social system, his bosses insisted on edits that made the stories more \'positive\' ... While he retells those stories with clarity and speed, he disdains any documentation and won’t cite research ... His gossipy, nonchalant manner of proceeding contrasts with the sharp-tongued seriousness of print-journalists Masha Gessen and Oliver Bullough, who have written recent marvelous books about Russia’s cold and violent suppression of civil rights protesters ... Pomerantsev, on the other hand, won’t even mention Gessen by name, though he cattily refers to her ... Unself-conscious about his chatty writing, Pomerantsev occasionally seems as if he is holding a microphone and looking at us through a screen ... Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is valuable for its peeks inside the machine that distracts much of the Russian populace.
Ed. by Andrew Blauner
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe best thing about this excellent and pleasing anthology of 33 tributes to Peanuts is that it will probably evoke your own memories of newspaper comic-strip reading and reawaken your appreciation of Charles M. Schulz’s round-headed, adult-sounding children and the imaginative dog Snoopy ... Almost every contributor has something smart to say, and editor Andrew Blauner has managed the anthology so that there is remarkably little repetition.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleFor the first 80 or 90 pages, A Partial History of Lost Causes really is a masterful, winning diptych of a novella ... As sharp as she is, bubbling over with energetic, witty first-person (Irina) and third-person (Bezetov) observations, duBois needlessly tosses her heroine into a political romance thriller and mercilessly pursues and knots up \'loose ends\' ... DuBois evokes Soviet and modern-day Russia so finely and comically that the tighter and tighter interweavings of the plot sometimes suffocate ...
Brian Jay Jones
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorJones only winces over the occasions when Geisel succumbed to the prejudices of his time ... What this biography does best is account for Geisel’s demanding creative habits ... While Jones takes pains to discuss and reproach Geisel’s stereotyped depictions of Japanese people, he doesn’t seem to want us to dwell over this tragic incident.
Maxim Osipov, Trans. by Alex Fleming and Anne Marie Jackson
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksIt’s not clear how the editor, Boris Dralyuk, and the other two expert translators, Alex Fleming and Anna Marie Jackson, selected the stories. I’m guessing it’s to show Osipov’s admirable range of characters and presentations — but soon it should be up to someone to take on the full contents of individual volumes ... Though immersed in his life as a doctor, Osipov is a literary soul, and he regularly quotes from or refers to the classics; maybe the short form and plays just happen to fit the speed of busy doctors. We know he’s not Chekhov, though, who in his early 20s dashed off stories seemingly between patients. And Chekhov didn’t exhibit any of Osipov’s hesitancy about how to do this business of telling a story. Osipov is more deliberate, and a couple of the stories feel overworked, fit for The New Yorker. Like Chekhov, he dates the completion of each story ... I don’t jump on every Russian literary bandwagon I see wheeling past, but I’ll jump on this one.
Ulysses S Grant
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Elizabeth D. Samet... has assembled an edition of Grant’s Memoirs that keeps the book, which is focused almost wholly on Grant’s military career and not at all on his presidency, ever engaging ... by the second half of Samet’s marvelous edition, I noticed that I was as eagerly looking at her notes about what I was reading ... Samet’s annotations strike me not so much as scholarly as teacherly ... [Samet’s] notes and first-rate introduction and afterword give me the pleasurable feeling of sitting in on her class as we discuss the book.\
David W. Blight
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"It’s hard to imagine a biographer more knowledgeable about Douglass’s life, times and writings than David W. Blight ... This grand and timely biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, is ever authoritatively informative, but it travels at a safe and steady 25 m.p.h. on a straight road while Douglass’s life was often a dangerous and boundless adventure. Where Blight is best is investigating those topics where the usually intrepid Douglass hesitated to tread... In those mysterious spaces, Blight is the best guide we could ask for, even though he sometimes seems sorry to have to mention his and our hero’s clay feet.\
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor\"The only wholly created character, loved and seen and wondered about, made vivid again and again, is the grandmother. Though we are always in Andrei’s head, he remains an enigma, neither likable or unlikable, and his friends and brother most often seem constructed but not created ... The novel’s best, sturdiest theme is that life is, if not attractive, then at least possible in that Terrible Country of Russia.\
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia will have variously engaged audiences, which McFaul himself acknowledges ... Careful about providing evidence for his hard-earned opinions, the Stanford University professor is always clear and successfully assesses the level of complexity we lay-readers need to understand academic theories about revolutions and economics. It only dawned on me after a few hundred slow and steady pages that if the book were more compelling and had more headlong momentum, it would be less persuasive and convincing ... Despite Putin’s sharp authoritarian turns, McFaul was and remains ever hopeful for the country’s eventual democratic development ... His epilogue, \'Trump and Putin,\' is rather too careful and hedging, as if his return to academic life has softened him. McFaul is really more bold when he’s out of his comfort zone.\
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by by Ingvild Burkey
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksWe’ve all seen this, I know, on TV and in the movies, the constant cajoling and haggling parent and the variously resistant kids, or we’ve done it ourselves, where it’s not cute and is almost always exasperating. But to read it as Knausgaard presents it is nothing but thrilling: it matters for us, we are aware of a tension; it feels routine but it also feels as if the unimaginably bad could happen at any moment ... There are two conspicuous mysteries and a few quiet ones that keep us anxiously focused as Knausgaard describes the routines and variations of everyday family life. He wants to show us that our thoughts, impressions, and memories are actions too ... As the house-making dad, the anxious husband and father, Knausgaard the writer continues to seem to me at his greatest, as he is in Spring, situating himself in the present day while he unpeels the past that is in its midst ... It’s poignant and beautiful, with his usual constant striving toward the most exposed vulnerability.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn his essays Knausgaard confronts common household objects and the most basic natural phenomena... Knausgaard’s aim is to re-see the everyday. And he does this in his idiosyncratic way, determinedly following the path of his darting thoughts, the way a hunter (better, a videographer, because he wants it alive) might track a rabbit... Knausgaard wrote these essays, he said in an interview, \'for fun.\' And they are fun...and stunning and glorious. But Knausgaard is not funny. He’s perhaps wry ... These essays will not intimidate anybody by their length; most are two to four pages ... Yet even in the small space of these works, Knausgaard is able to ask intelligent \'naive\' questions in the midst of discoveries, observations, and contemplations. It’s not agreeing or disagreeing with his opinions or being intimately connected to his experiences that is so gripping; it’s the seemingly endless stirring of his thoughts about the wide world out there that helps to stir ours.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...the best biography I’ve read in years, despite its being about one of the most destructive leaders in history. It takes Victor Sebestyen less than five pages to perform the hardest of all literary tricks: making the person he’s writing about seem like a familiar human being ... This isn’t a back-and-forth, on the one hand he was good, on the other he was bad biography. Sebestyen shows us what Lenin did and created was terrible. Who he was is and was, regrettably, fascinating ... Lenin is terrific, the story of 'the godfather' of 'post-truth politics' and founding father of one of the world’s biggest man-made catastrophes.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorGessen takes turns focusing on four particular earnest brave resisters to the totalitarianism of their country, Zhanna, Masha, Seryozha, and Lyosha. It never becomes exactly clear, though, why Gessen chose these four. She seems to have known them all for many years, since their childhoods, but are they random representatives of Russian life? No. They’re more similar to Greek mythic tragic heroes, like Antigone, Electra, and Orestes – smart and capable, admirable for their persistence and integrity, and for their necessary courage in opposition to tyranny ... All of which leaves the reader asking: Can Russia save herself? It's not clear that even the courage of resisters like Zhanna, Masha, Seryozha, and Lyosha offer grounds for cautious hope.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDelisle, who is used to positioning himself as the butt of his own jokes, drawing on his own comical hypocrisies as a father and anxieties as a man and cartoonist, never mocks Andre. Delisle’s sympathy is absolute and almost divine ... Reading graphic nonfiction, playing that nimble match-game between words and images, feels something like watching a foreign movie with subtitles, but the translation by Helge Dascher is perfectly transparent, and never reads like a translation.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBeer devotes fine attention to the group of idealistic officers known as the Decembrists; after trying in 1825 to steer authoritarian Russia toward democracy, those do-gooders who weren’t executed served decades in exile ... Beer’s writing is clear, his judgments careful and restrained as he lays out the series of tsars who took for granted that they embodied the law, that their caprice regarding sentencing and pardoning conveyed justice ... Beer is liveliest and less buttoned-up when he discusses Poland’s repeated resistance to the bullying Russian empire.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIf you are intrigued by Russian history, Bolshoi Confidential will fascinate you. If you love ballet, this story of one of the world's oldest and greatest ballet companies should be a star attraction ... Morrison gives the Bolshoi a first-rate historical treatment. Thoroughly scholarly and simultaneously astute and clear-voiced ... Never ignoring or excusing the horrors of Soviet history, Morrison conveys a grim humor at the thought of officials dictating ballets featuring factory workers and their machines.
PanThe Christian Science MonitorFor all the novel’s reach and extension, however, there’s a hastiness that is perplexing: Ulitskaya occasionally but abruptly loses interest in one character or another, and then, practically yawning, she dashes off elsewhere...bored or her imagination having flagged, she’ll suddenly summarize a decade of a hero’s life in a paragraph.