Fun Fact: Life in Stalinist Leningrad

These two marketing blogs must really be getting desperate because they keep linking to my posts. Every time I see a link, I make that post private. I’ve done this with a lot of my posts the past week. Mostly my posts about Mendocino and Philo. These people have NO imagination.

It’s so beautiful to see them today. How are you? When every single one of my posts is private, maybe I can finally concentrate on writing a book.

I haven’t been able to join Bloganuary. Despite all the fanfare, I’ve only received one prompt in my ‘In’ box, and I check every day.

Fun Fact 1 from All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days:

  • Over forty thousand residents of Leningrad are murdered in 1937 — a number that reaches sixty-thousand in 1938. (Because executions are carried out at night and mass graves are hidden, most of the population remains blissfully ignorant of Stalin’s killing spree)

But, sixty-thousand people in the space of a year? Surely those people had family? Friends? Co-workers? Wouldn’t they notice if their family members and/or friends simply vanished? I mean, we’re not talking six or even sixty or even six thousand people. We’re talking sixty-thousand, which is 3/4 the population of self’s city in California.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

She vividly evokes the civilians trapped in Berlin and deprived of meaningful news. They know only that information from the western front, where the Americans have just reached the Elbe, is by then irrelevant. “Our fate is rolling in from the East,” she writes.

— from the Introduction, by Antony Beevor

p. 205, Back to Crying

Really, self has never experienced anything like it, not in her entire life: it’s like her eyes have been swollen to the size of golf balls for TWO DAYS, all on account of reading Anne Seba’s Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy (The title was slightly different in the UK edition, self noticed. It was Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy).

And also, the house is really, really cold. Insulation is circa 1939, which means there is none. Self is wearing three sweaters.

Also: She is really glad it rained last night. And not just a little sprinkle, either. Ground was wet when she went to the backyard this morning.

p. 205:

  • Ethel was admant that her fate could not be separated from Julius’s: either both of them would be spared, or both would go to the electric chair. “A cold fury possesses me and I could retch with horror and revulsion for those unctuous saviors, these odious swine who are actually proposing to erect a terrifying sepulcher in which I shall live without living and die without dying” . . . Ethel had learned that she might be saved “out of a humanitarian consideration for me as a woman and as a mother while my husband is to be electrocuted,” an idea that appalled her.

Self is simply in awe. This should be an opera. Why hasn’t anyone turned this into an opera?

Meanwhile, on the rejection of their last appeal for clemency, to President Eisenhower, Judge Kaufman — yes, that same Judge Kaufman who presided over their initial trial, where he pretty much functioned as a member of the prosecution team — sets the date of execution for the following week. He’s waited two years for this moment, the moment when the Rosenbergs run out of options and face the music! Oooh. Can’t you just see his face? As far as this judge is concerned, the Rosenbergs should have received their just deserts in 1951, why have they been allowed to live an additional two years?

Ethel is calm, but Julius becomes belligerent. Why, he wants to know, do the other convicted spies get 15-year sentences and he and Ethel get the electric chair? Why indeed. That was probably a question for his lawyer, who was so completely out of his depth, he didn’t even think about the court of public opinion until it was too late.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the prison van, 1951. The last time they were allowed to touch. Even on the day of their execution, two years later, they were separated by a wire mesh barrier.

The Noose

Self pulled a switcheroo one sleepless night and decided to read Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. Something about the prose, something about the hour, something about her mood — she put aside Chris Offutt for later.

The past few days, she’s been reading about idealistic young Ethel Rosenberg, and she hopes her heart doesn’t break too much later, when Ethel is sentenced. It’s bad enough reading about what a hard worker she was, how determined she was to be a good wife and mother, and how all her life she yearned for music and scrimped and saved to buy herself a piano.

Of Julius and Ethel, it is pretty clear that Ethel is probably more intelligent. Definitely, she’s the one more rooted in family (as the woman usually is, even now). So when Julius gets flattered into passing on information to a Russian agent on p. 58, it is quite a gut punch.

Julius Rosenberg to his Russian “handler,” Alexander Feklisov, who was four years Julius’s senior, who’d “been working in New York since 1940”:

  • “I know you may not be aware of it, but our meetings are among the happiest moments of all my life . . . I have a wonderful wife and son whom I adore but you are the only person who knows all my secrets and it’s very important to be able to confide to someone.”

Damn you, Julius Rosenberg and also damn you, Alexander Feklisov!

The Russians expressed skepticism, remarking with cool detachment that his “health is nothing splendid.”

Looking Back: WIRED, 2010

SERIAL KILLER:

How the AK-47 became “the most deadly — and disruptive — technology of the past century

by C. J. Chivers

From the article:

The AK-47 was created by Stalin’s engineers in 1947. “When the Pentagon finally got its hands on a few of the weapons in the 1950s, officials scoffed.” Its name was the Avtomat Kalashnikova-47, and it “would become one of the most recognizable artifacts of the 20th century . . . It has helped ensure that even the poor, the small-statured, the dim-witted, the illiterate, and the untrained are able to acquire weapons and keep them functioning . . . . Stalin’s rifle became, and remains, the everyman gun, a success — and scourge — that is sure to last well into the 21st century.”

The M1943 cartridge: “In 1943, the Soviets captured an unusual cartridge from Nazi soldiers on Germany’s eastern front. The cartridge, roughly midway in size between traditional rifle and pistol ammo, lacked the power for effective long-range shooting but was more than adequate for most combat. It generated less heat and recoil, which meant that guns built around it could be lighter, cheaper, and easier to fire.”

Stay tuned.

ANNA KARENINA, p. 733

A conversation between Levin and his old beekeeper, Mikhailych. (Even the most insignificant of supporting characters gets vivid description: The beekeeper, a “handsome old man with a gray-streaked black beard and thick silver hair, was standing motionlessly, holding a cup of honey, looking kindly and calmly at the gentlemen from the fullness of his height . . . “)

Levin: “Have you heard, Mihailych, about the war? What was that they read in church? What do you think? Should we be fighting for the Christians?”

Mikhailych: “What’s for us to think? Alexander Nikolaevich, our emperor, he’s thought it over for us, he thinks everything over for us. He knows best.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

True Russian Spirit: ANNA KARENINA, p. 326

This is a Vronsky chapter. (Self has been skipping all the Anna chapters; she can’t believe how suddenly and decisively Anna has fallen, from being a calm and exemplary wife to being a mewling, desperate and unhappy mistress. Is such a drastic change even realistic? Maybe such things do happen in real life — perhaps Vronsky truly was that charming — but that’s no excuse to make them happen in fiction, lol)

A foreign prince visits Russia:

In Turkey he had been in a harem, in India he had ridden an elephant, and now in Russia he wished to sample all the special Russian pleasures.

Vronsky, who was with him as a kind of master of ceremonies, took great pains to apportion all the Russian pleasures offered the prince by various individuals. There were trotters, bliny, bear hunts, troikas, Gypsies, and drinking bouts with Russian plate smashing. The prince assimilated the Russian spirit with extraordinary ease, smashed trays of plates, sat a Gypsy woman on his knee, and seemed to ask, Isn’t there something else, or does the Russian spirit consist merely of this?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Anna Karenina: Introduction by Gary Saul Morson

Self making mincemeat of her reading list.

First, she abandoned all six books of My Struggle after reading just one page of Book One.

Then, she stopped reading Barracoon at the first page of the narrative proper, she just couldn’t agree with the decision Hurston made to write him as he appeared, not as he truly was: a grown man, a man who had endured unimaginable suffering.

Today, she put aside her copy of If On a Winter’s Night a Travel.

What does she want? What is she looking for?

Hopefully it’s Anna Karenina.

From the Introduction:

The lovers live in a realm beyond good and evil. After all, good and evil depend on choice, and where fate governs, choice is out of the question. No matter how much pain the lovers cause, one cannot condemn them . . .

That is the story Anna imagines she is living. As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance . . .  As Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novels she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or Vronsky . . . Anna feels that fate has marked her out for a special destiny, perhaps tragic but surely exaulted.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Anastasia Ivanovna Medvedkina, Machine Gunner

You’re a writer. Think up something yourself. Something beautiful. Without lice and filth, without vomit . . . Without the smell of vodka and blood . . . Not so frightening as life.

— from The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich

Narrative is Made Narrative By ‘The End’

  • It’s already clear to you that without the thought of death it is impossible to make out anything in a human being. — Svetlana Alexievich, A Human Being Is Greater Than War

Perhaps self has a Russian soul. She is satisfied with the above quote, even though “to make out anything” is really vague. Perhaps something got lost in the translation from the Russian?

It sounds so perfect and mysterious, though.

Stay tuned.

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