Kind of in conjunction with the release of Daniel Stein, Interpreter, the Guardian has a longish piece on Ulitskaya that focuses on her more dissident side, especially in relation to Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Articles, Dialogues, Interviews, a collection of her letters with jailed billionaire Khodorkovsky:
[Ulitskaya] was the first woman to win the Russian equivalent of the Booker prize and, more recently, has attracted both controversy and acclaim for publishing her correspondence with the jailed billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This week, she will be talking at the Foreign Policy Centre in London about personal and political freedom in Russia, examining what it is to be an artist in a state run by Vladimir Putin, a man not known for his tolerance of free speech or respect for human rights.
“I’m not afraid,” Ulitskaya insists, speaking through a translator. “Compared to the Stalinist era, our government now is a pussycat with soft paws … Having said that, I believe that Khodorkovsky is in jail because the whole society was so scared that no one stood up for his defence. There were threats: the court was afraid, the witnesses, the judge, because no one had the courage to speak up and that saddens me. That loss of dignity frustrates me because our society had only just started overcoming its fear after so many years of oppressive rule. The Russian people have once again started to be gripped by fear.”
Khodorkovsky, the former head of oil giant Yukos and once Russia’s richest man, was jailed for eight years in 2005 along with his business partner after being found guilty of embezzling more than £16.3bn worth of oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers maintain that the charges are absurd and based on a failure to understand normal business practices. Their client, they argue, is a political prisoner and a symbol of a corrupt Russian judicial system – a view supported by Ulitskaya. “I’m absolutely convinced that all of the allegations were absurd,” she says. “It started from tax evasion, then got blown out of proportion. The next allegation was theft, which is completely absurd because you can’t steal from yourself.” [. . .]
Ulitskaya began writing to the imprisoned oligarch in 2008, addressing her letters to him in the Soviet-era labour camp in eastern Siberia where he was incarcerated. The correspondence lasted for a little under a year and their letters covered everything from personal backgrounds to political motivations. At first, Ulitskaya did not expect to find they had much in common. The child of two scientists, she had grown up in Moscow with an innate mistrust for authority after both her grandfathers were imprisoned by Stalin’s regime. By contrast, Khodorkovsky’s parents worked in a Soviet-era factory and, as a boy, he was a faithful member of the Komsomol, the youth wing of the Communist party. As an adult, he rose to become one of Boris Yeltsin’s most trusted advisers. But gradually, she learned to respect him.
“I was travelling round Russia a lot and I would constantly come across different traces of his charitable work,” Ulitskaya says. “He spent a lot of money on education, setting up children’s homes, giving schools the latest computer equipment. My support for Khodorkovsky primarily lies in how much money he spent on charitable enterprises.
“In Russia, there is a drastic gap between rich and poor, to the extent that I feel the country is on the brink of civil war. The salary of a civil servant can be hundreds of thousands less than that of a businessman. It causes huge irritation, especially when people show off their wealth, with all their furs and bling. I hope that the next generation will be educated more to spend their money wisely and charitably. And, for me, the first person to realise he should act like this was Khodorkovsky.”
In prison, she says, the businessman “has undergone enormous growth as a person and I really admire the way he has conducted himself during the last few years, despite the torment he and his family have been through. He is an outstanding individual.” [. . .]
Given her outspoken nature, Ulitskaya could be forgiven for feeling uneasy in her homeland or fearing for her family – she lives in Moscow with her husband, an artist, and has two grown-up sons. But she insists she feels “completely free” and dismisses Putin as “a joke”. [. . .]
“My perception of Putin as an individual is that he is quite juvenile, not very mature, and all the pictures we have of him from state television are of Putin climbing Everest or fighting a tiger or extinguishing a fire. It’s just a kind of joke, these macho games.
“But if I want to judge Vladimir Putin as a politician, these are my criticisms: our country is in an atrocious condition. Schools and hospitals are underfunded, our pensioners are on the brink of poverty and the condition of our army is shocking. Our soldiers are underfed and live in unsanitary conditions.”
Click here to read the complete interview.
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in _Morse, My Deaf Friend_— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .