For the sake of making Russia legible to foreign eyes, one might be lulled into lazily attributing the country’s systemic idiosyncrasies, abuses, and dysfunction to the tremors of a universal, mystical “Russian Soul.” But does such a thing really exist? Did it ever? Is it the only explanation for what makes Russians Russian? For this crop of authors, the answer is nyet.
When terrible things happen in a Chekhov story, it isn’t because one of the characters is a bad seed. It is often because of the characters’ inability to extend to each other the kind of compassion that would force them outside of their own concerns.
What are some good books to read [in jail]?
"Russia’s most celebrated writers - including Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn and Mandelstam - are often depicted as solitary geniuses. But many of their works were the fruits of creative partnerships with their wives. Far from being passive typists, they served as editors, researchers, translators, publishers and more.”
The author, whose novels thrum with ironic recurrences, might have been perversely pleased with this: thirty-six years after his death and twenty-two years after the fall of the Soviet Union with all its khudsovets, Vladimir Nabokov is, once again, controversial.