The CIA was known for unorthodox espionage techniques during the Cold War, but using Doctor Zhivago to undermine the U.S.S.R. is one of the strangest. The CIA helped print and distribute the banned book because it would make Soviets wonder “what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”
"My understanding of Russian literature and its history was shaken up by Muireann Maguire’s Stalin’s Ghosts: Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature; I had never given a thought to that side of Soviet literature, and I doubt many people have, but she convinced me that (as she puts it) ‘The centrality of the Gothic-fantastic to Russian fiction is almost impossible to exaggerate.’” Stephen Dodson kicks off A Year in Reading.
"The final act of [Vasily] Grossman’s life began in 1961, when Life and Fate was ‘arrested’ by the K.G.B., who said that it could not be published for two hundred and fifty years.”
In 1932, several black Americans – including Langston Hughes – traveled to the Soviet Union to shoot a propaganda film about the “evils of racism in the United States.” One of those travelers, Lloyd Patterson, would never return. Instead, Patterson married an Ukrainian woman, and the pair had two children. The firstborn, Jim Patterson, was at one time the most famous black resident of the USSR – and his appearance in The Circus even drew the admiration of Joseph Stalin. After World War II, Patterson served as a Soviet naval officer aboard a submarine in the Black Sea. From there he went on to the Soviet Writers Union in 1967. If you think this sounds far-fetched, I encourage you to read more here.
Following last week’s Sotheby’s auction, the archives of Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky will soon be headed back to Russia. The collection amounts to “several thousand working manuscripts, personal photographs, recordings and private documents” and it sold for a whopping £1.5 million.
Speaking of that story from The Atavist we mentioned a moment ago: my favorite bit of US-USSR Space Race history is the fact that the US devoted upwards of $25 million to its chimpanzee research (that later launched Ham into orbit). That money went to training, research, feed, and veterinary care. On the other side of the world, the USSR’s space dog program — including Laika, Strelka and Belka — consisted exclusively of stray dogs the scientists found on their ways to work.
The VQR‘s last issue, “The Soviet Ghost,” was one of the most heart-wrenching reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. Now it’s got a series of video interviews with Chernobyl workers to seriously depress (and also greatly inform) you all over again.