Olga's Reviews > The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort
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really liked it
bookshelves: russia, non-fiction, comics
Recommended to Olga by: Sal
Recommended for: those interested in Russian and Soviet history and current Russian politics

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is an important work, asking questions that have no answers. Igort excels at bringing to life history, in this case it is the history of Ukraine and the USSR. I had no trouble reading a graphic novel of this size (more than three hundred pages), but I had trouble with the content. My main complaint is that there are no links to the sources. Igort wrote a non fiction book, non fiction graphic novel. And non fiction requires from an author to provide links to his sources.

When he describes interviews, I understand that the source is this exact person telling the story he or she remembers. But when Igort makes claims that Holodomor was artificially created in order to kill specifically Ukrainians, that sounds groundless. Why is that? Because if he cared to look up history books, he’d know that in 1932-33 not only Ukraine suffered from famine, but many other Soviet regions too. To name a few: Siberia, Volga region, Kazakhstan, Southern Ural and others. Yes, partly the famine was caused by the policy of the USSR against kulaks (rich peasants) and because of the USSR goal to export grain. But besides that it was caused by a combination of factors, including low harvest and increased demand for food because of an industrialisation (too many people moved to the cities, too few stayed to work the land).

It was a tragedy of several nations. Ukrainians has a specific word that means the famine was targeted specifically against them - Holodomor. That is their choice. But people in the other regions and of other nationalities died too. They killed and ate their babies. Because there was nothing to eat. They ate horse skin. They died. Not only Ukrainians, but Russians, Kazakhs and other nationalities. That’s how stalinism worked. There was one great goal for everyone, to export as much grain as possible, and no one could simply say: Ha, I don’t feel like doing it today. You had no choice. Not only in Ukrainian SSR, but everywhere else too.

I feel I’d like that part much more if Igort put more effort into making it more objective.

As for the second part, describing life and death of Anna Politkovskaya, I pretty much remember the times described. And I can say Igort painted more accurate picture than in the first part of the book. It pains me to admit, but journalists _were_ killed in Russia because they wrote what they decided to write, not simply what was safe to write. Politkovskaya was one of those journalists.

She wrote about Chechnya and what happened there, describing all the atrocities of war. She reported what happened recently there and wrote books on what happened some time ago there. She was respected by many different people, but unfortunately her narrative didn’t match the official one. The outcome was that she was killed in an elevator of her own home. Shot at four times, to be exact, including one shot at the head. The killers were quite professional.

What pains me even more to admit, is that these two books were written by Igort. Not because he is a foreigner painting more or less an objective picture of my fatherland. But because there are no such books in Russian. A nation wide tragedy called stalinism took place, and some people still can say things like ‘Stalin won WWII and he did what he had to do! He was great!’ When I hear something like that, said sometimes even by my friends or relatives, I am lost. I don’t know how to respond. And my only hope can be that they don’t know all the details.

Like, for example, they don’t know about the famine of 1932-33, caused partially by Stalin’s crazy goals. Or how many people perished in Gulag. In order for them to know that, there have to be books. Different books, painting different pictures, not the only picture in which Stalin is a great war strategist and a national leader.

Igort created such books, but where are books written by Russian authors? Sure, we have scientific historical works on specific topics, as the said famine. Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago contains about 1200 pages. Needless to say not many enthusiasts will plunge into the grim descriptions of the Soviet rule, extending for more than one thousand pages.

Graphic novels present a great opportunity to combine the power of a word with the power of a picture. I don’t believe we would see in a near future any Russian artist/writer creating a graphic novel on the Gulag or stalinism. But maybe this is what we need. We need closure. We didn’t have it when the USSR finally decomposed. That’s why some people still believe in some mythical Stalin who did what he did for the good of every Soviet comrade. And books like Igort’s help to dissolve this illusion.
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Reading Progress

March 3, 2016 – Started Reading
March 3, 2016 – Shelved
March 11, 2016 –
page 187
48.7% "This is the most depressing book I read in a long time."
March 16, 2016 – Shelved as: russia
March 16, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction
March 16, 2016 – Shelved as: comics
March 16, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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J.T. Your message at the end about historical memory in Russia was very interesting (and saddening) to read.

message 2: by Sal (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sal Well, never say never! Solzhenitsyn wrote about the gulags when so few people outside of Russia knew they existed at all.

Thank you for mentioning the relevant history behind this. The subjective vs. the objective was also concerning for me as I was reading, but I think you explained it much better than I was able to.

message 3: by Warfawek (new)

Warfawek Well, you could say Ephrosinia Kersnovskaya has published her Gulag memories as a graphic novel way before it was cool.

Olga J.T. wrote: "Your message at the end about historical memory in Russia was very interesting (and saddening) to read."
Well, currently it is even not advisable to discuss the events that took place during WWII in a questionable manner. The most striking example could be what happened to the TV Rain when they asked about the siege of Leningrad: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-c... That was quite a big deal and everyone discussed it. That is one of the reasons I wrote that part. If it is forbidden or not advisable to discuss history, how can people have an objective picture, or how can they at least know different views on the events?

Olga Warfawek wrote: "Well, you could say Ephrosinia Kersnovskaya has published her Gulag memories as a graphic novel way before it was cool."
Спасибо за отсылку. Любопытный пример воспоминаний, я не читала.

message 6: by Warfawek (new)

Warfawek >“Should the city have been surrendered so that hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved?”

Well, by the sound of it they did deserve their punishment.

According to contemporary German historians it was never the intent of the fascists to ackowledge Leningrad has already been taken. The intent was to obliterate the population and to bleed the Soviet side by forcing them to still support the city.

If you, say, aired Holocaust Denial here in Germany your channel you would get problems with your viewers, partners and, perhaps, the authorities. There is even a chance the selfsame claim about Leningrad would get you punished for the defamation of the dead.

The biggest problem with the Russian liberals, I think, is that they don't consult historians or academics but Radio Liberty.

Olga Warfawek, ну вы же понимаете, что проверки Роскомнадзора и прокуратуры, выселение из арендуемого помещения, отключение Дождя от вещания через Акадо, Билайн, Триколор-ТВ и прочих операторов, всё это не было вызвано тем, что Дождь не проконсультировался с историками, когда задавал вопрос в прямом эфире?

message 8: by VanillaSky (new)

VanillaSky Интересный отзыв, согласна со многим, но не всем :)

message 9: by VanillaSky (new)

VanillaSky Olga wrote: "Warfawek, ну вы же понимаете, что проверки Роскомнадзора и прокуратуры, выселение из арендуемого помещения, отключение Дождя от вещания через Акадо, Билайн, Триколор-ТВ и прочих операторов, всё это..."

Извиняюсь, что влезаю. Но, задавая подобный вопрос - с консультацией или без - в медиа, они прекрасно понимали, что именно такую реакцию и вызовут. И то, что на них пожаловались в роскомнадзор и прокуратуру - логичное следствие, ровно как и отказ некоторых провайдеров сотрудничать с ними.
Я только не понимаю каким образам неадекват дождя относится к невозможности в России обсуждать ВОВ? Да и Сталина со всех сторон вываляли уже вроде бы, нет?

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