Upcoming Events at Pushkin House
Wednesday, July 31, 2019, 7pm
The Soviet Union was a notoriously closed society until Stalin’s death in 1953. Then, in the mid-1950s, a torrent of Western novels, films, and paintings invaded Soviet streets and homes, acquiring heightened emotional significance. To See Paris and Die is a history of this momentous opening to the West. Eleonory Gilburd explores the pleasure, longing, humiliation, and anger that Soviet citizens felt as they found themselves in the midst of this cross-cultural encounter. The main protagonists of To See Paris and Die are small-town teachers daydreaming of faraway places, college students vicariously discovering a wider world, and factory engineers striving for self-improvement. They invested Western imports with political and personal significance, transforming foreign texts into intimate belongings.
Eleonory Gilburd will be in conversation with an art historian, curator and writer Sarah Wilson. Sarah’s global art interests are informed by specialism in postwar and Cold War Europe and the USSR.
Shortlisted for the 2019 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize Katja Petrowskaja’s family story Maybe Esther is inextricably entangled with the history of 20th-century Europe. There is her great-uncle, who shot a German diplomat in Moscow in 1932 and was sentenced to death. There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during WWII and reappeared forty years later. And there is her great-grandmother – whose name may or may not have been Esther – who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was killed by a Nazi outside her house.
In a sequel to his sold-out talk last year, Mark Galeotti - author of The Vory: Russia's Super Mafia (Yale, 2018), one of the shortlisted books for the 2019 Pushkin House Book Prize - returns to the shadows. Whereas before he looked especially at the gory past of the Russian vorovskoi mir, its feared underworld subculture, now he will be turning his eyes to the current situation at home and abroad, and its likely evolution. While one embittered Russian investigator told him that everyone is a gangster now, Mark will explain why he remains "unfashionably optimistic" about Russia's future.
This event is in association with the London Russian Book Club, one of the Pushkin House Book Prize sponsors.
On the morning of 26 April 1986 Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine. The outburst put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In the end, less than five percent of the reactor's fuel escaped, but that was enough to contaminate over half of Europe with radioactive fallout. In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy recreates these events in all of their drama, telling the stories of the firefighters, scientists, engineers, workers, soldiers, and policemen who found themselves caught in a nuclear Armageddon and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: extinguishing the nuclear inferno and putting the reactor to sleep.
1983 was a supremely dangerous year - even more dangerous than 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the US, President Reagan massively increased defence spending, described the Soviet Union as an 'evil empire' and announced his 'Star Wars' programme, calling for a shield in space to defend the US from incoming missiles. This is an extraordinary and largely unknown Cold War story of spies and double agents, of missiles being readied, of intelligence failures, misunderstandings and the panic of world leaders. Taylor Downing tells for the first time the gripping but true story of how near the world came to the brink of nuclear war in 1983.