esmaspäev, juuli 14, 2008

summer reading

I have a weird rule by which I abide, and that is that if I decide to read a book, then I must finish it before I allow myself to read any other books. Even if that other book looks outrageously awesome, I may not read it until I finish the book I am working on at the moment.

When it came to reading Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History, work was the appropriate word. The book is all about labor, laborers, and labor camps, and it is in some way a chore to read.

That is not to say that it was an unpleasant read; I enjoyed nearly every chapter, nearly every personal narrative. The chore was that it was 586 pages, and it was just not humanly possible to read this book in one sitting or two sittings or three sittings. The book demanded that you work to finish it and work I did.

I am not going to tell you about what is in it; that's for you to find out. I will just say that Applebaum's work is exhausting. I have no idea how a person can even write a book so comprehensive on such a topic. Where does one start? Where does one end? How does one know what to keep in and what to exclude? I have no idea.

Let me add this: Anne Applebaum scares me. Sure, the horrors of the Gulag as related by this book were sickening, giving you that nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you read the end of the Diary of Anne Frank. But this intrepid reporter genuinely frightens me because I know somewhere in my heart that there is just no way that I could ever produce something like Gulag.

It's perhaps like being a guitar player and listening to Jeff Beck conjure airplanes in his amplifier. You just know that you may be able to play your tune and play it well, but you also know that you will never be able to play it like Jeff Beck. Where there is wonder, there is also sometimes disappointment.

Despite my newfound fear of Applebaum, in some odd way I felt I came to know something of her personality. She dwells a bit on the reading and writing opportunities for political prisoners, and I guess that she must have in some ways identified with those young social revolutionaries imprisoned on Solovetsky in the 1920s who spent their days alone with their thoughts and the local mosquitos. Paper and pen have additional meaning to her, and why wouldn't they? As she has proven with this work, she's a writer.

A friend of mine once said that when you marry a foreigner, you marry the whole country, and in Applebaum's case, she is married to Poland. Legend has it that her next work will be more exclusively about Poland and its neighborhood. Stay tuned.

36 kommentaari:

Jonas ütles ...

Your weird rule strikes me as entirely sensible! I'm all the time trying to read 3 things at once. I buy far too many books, my wife says we should open a branch of the library.

I am reading New Cold War (Lucas) just now after reading about it some time ago on your blog. It sounded interesting - and so far it is just that.

Puu ütles ...

Humanity a moral History
by this British guy
and Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginsberg are also very good.

Applebaum rules though.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

I don't know, I don't think I want to read this book. I think I have more than enough contempt toward Russia already.

I'd like to read something that'll give me warm and fuzzy feeling about Russia.

Would "Gulag" still be the right choice?

Giustino ütles ...

I didn't come away from the book thinking ill of Russians at all.

It's very evident that Stalin was at the tip of that pyramid, and NKVD leaders who were slicin' up prisoners one year were getting diced the next.

I am surprised that the USSR managed to ramble on for a couple of more decades. The Bolshevik ideology seemed to be wholly bankrupt even by the mid-1930s.

Eppppp ütles ...

The people who were tortured there were Russians, too. Like my greatgrandfather who was in the camp...

Kristopher ütles ...

Jeff Beck made an album called Truth; Applebaum simply tells it?

Off-topic or maybe not, but they don't make albums like that anymore. I don't know what blows me away more, the clinic Beck puts on or Rod Stewart's vocals.

I wish I had the discipline to set a reading rule. I think my rule is that when I finish the blogs, then I get to the books. Every time Ed Lucas posts a new entry, I'm that much further from starting New Cold War.

Doris ütles ...

good rule, too bad I ca't follow that one :P

I highly recommnd everything by Orlando Figes. The most recent one (that I'm in the middle of, among some ther books) is called The Whisperers, and concetrates on Stalin-era private life. From childhood - school, home, friends to an analysis of so many different strata of the soviet society: the old intelligentia, the farmers, the party officials.... It's good.

Giustino ütles ...

Now I am reading a book about Christina, Queen of Sweden, the Goths and the Wends;
Grand Princess of Finland; Duchess of Estonia, Karelia, Bremen, Verden, Stettin, Pomerania, Kashubia and Wendia; Princess of Rügen;
Lady of Ingria and Wismar.

Rainer ütles ...

Her titulature in Latin begins with "Sveciae, Gothorum et Vandalorum regina..."

Goths and Vandals, man! It has much more, should I say, Xenaesque panash to it than just plain "queen of Sweden, Göta and Vendel", doesn't it?

Puu ütles ...

Exactly. Eugenia Ginsberg was Russian too. There's a good book out right now about Lenin's purges of the
Russian intellectuals who helped lay the foundations of the Bolshevik Revolution ( another classic example of the soviet bite the hand that feeds you policy... not very unlike Russia kicking out all of the people who helped privatize lots of companies in the 90s now)... like Nabokov's father was part of the interim government after the First World War and then got sent west being shorn of all his property. Anyway, though I shouldn't get into this too much.

Puu ütles ...

Too bad Cristina decided she wanted to be Catholic more than Queen...

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

That thing about marrying the country - so damn true. Been there done that. The problem is - you may love her, but still despise the country. If that's the case, sooner or later it's all gonna coma crashing down. It's basically like, you gotta be able to imagine her mom being your wife instead of her. If this idea repulses you, you got a problem. Run as fast as you can.

I know, off topic kinda, right?, but, hey, what the heck - I'm a stream-of concious kinda guy. So forgive me once again, my fellow petronites. Especially you, my dear puu.

Giustino ütles ...

Too bad Cristina decided she wanted to be Catholic more than Queen...

Shhh! I haven't gotten that far in the book yet. Christina is arguing with Oxenstierna and it's still the 1640s ...

Puu ütles ...

Hirnu, you need to get a real girl friend and stop your fantasies and imaginary relationships with celebrities such as myself. It's not healthy.
When you marry a man you often marry a country as well.And he will look like his father... Yawn.... why is this comparison so much more interesting with women.

Kristopher ütles ...

Lady of Wismar -- after the nervous breakdown?

Puu ütles ...

I never had a nervous breakdown. All I wanted to do was to jerk off in the girls bathroom. Which if I were a boy would be seen as perfectly normal, but in our patriachal society is not seen as normal for women... because heaven forbid if they know how to please themselves and view themselves as normal beings and not porn stars or prostitutes for doing so. Nervous breakdown today is very similar to witch hunts of the 16th century...You don't want a fat middle age man with a little hmmm hmmm, you want your own job and money and you get called crazy...Read Foucault it's all a matter of power.
I imagine that bringing up nervous breakdowns give Hirnu and Kristopher an excuse not to go to the gym... The reason people like Kristopher often lurk in area like Eastern Europe or lets say Thailand is because they didn't do too well with the ladies in their own country and they get into these mail order bride fantasies, which are pure neo colonialism about Russian or Eastern European women who really know how to treat a man, just because there is a currency difference and some girls get so economically desperate that they will do all sorts of things for the promise of a green card. But it doesn't make you more of a man really , it just makes you more pathetic. So does calling women bitches, crazy, and slutty just because they don't find your middle aged body and frathouse after five beers party mind attractive. It's called putting the problem on other people when the problem is really you. Because by stopping blaming women for everything you would be forced to face the cold harsh light of day that you are really a middle aged loser that can't get any. Let's avoid such conflict in the future and keep it to politics. Though admitedly the political is often personal.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Hey, don't mess with Christina! I am from Osnabrück. Ruled by her brother (with different mother) Gustav Gustavson for a certain time. And another Oxenstierna was negotiating here. The end of the Thirty Years war. Though the Oxenstierna group were the hardliners. Salvius was the man to compromise, and as far as I know, supported by Christina.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Jens-Olaf ütles ...

The thing about Christina: When all male politicians during that period were doing just their dynasty thing, representing, SHE was independent. Said Good Bye to be Queen, change her confession and went here own way.

Puu ütles ...

Yeah, but she caused all the accession conflicts and placed too much emphasis on the spiritual... she could have done more social reform in her country... though at the time I suppose Catholicism and Protestanism and the debates were much more powerful... This Italian book Q is kinda good about this... kinda painful to read too though.

Mari ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Mari ütles ...

Mhm, the book's great.

I think the three volumes of Solzhenitsyn are even harder work to read though. My first thorough introduction to the intricacies of the Gulag.

Kristopher ütles ...

Er, Puu, I'm a monogamous male who finds Alan Alda to be a fairly congenial guy. I think you're confusing me with someone else.

"Wismari" is Estonian shorthand for rehab and was not a reference to you. But if you're not aware what you say can be hurtful and there is an aura of exhibitionism about your comments, people will assume you have that sort of problem, as that pretty much goes with the territory.

Kristopher ütles ...

Correction -- maybe Wismari (after the Tallinn hospital of that name) is the mental ward and Seedrioru is the viinaravi place. I have only a vague knowledge of the town of Wismar. Wismar to me is something else.

The point was not to make fun of the problems treated there but rather Christina's pompous title, which inadvertently could take on a different meaning, much as if a powerful California abbot added a bunch of random locales to his name, and one of them was "San Quentin"...

I don't care, in this case, if Christina of Sweden is a "feminist icon" or if you find the term "nervous breakdown" to be so laden with sexist baggage to be objectionable. Pomposity is always risible to me and lengthy aristocratic titles deserve to be mocked.

Puu ütles ...

First off Kristopher, call me crazy but you do need to go to the gym. If your wife thinks otherwise that's her perogitive but perogitive is the defining word, not sanity And speaking of sanity, from whence do your gain your extensive knowledge of Tallinn area mental institutions? First hand knowledge? When did respecting anyone's feelings ever have anything to do with it? Hillary's cleavage, Cheney's daughter, Osama Obama and Savisaars color blindness are all fair game.What about Hirnu's poor Korean prostitute whom he left like a modern Pinkerton only to publish the sordid details of the affair and then go on to drive a knife deeper into the poor women's heart by professing a stalkerish love of myself? And yet you defend the man with no regard for the korean woman feelings, surely signs of two alcoholic mental deficients, as you yourself have defined them. The root problem is holding oneself in too high regard. As I myself demonstrate post modern psycho babble and random Neil Gaiman references do not an intellectual or an especially astute political commentor make.
My apologies that every thread seems to degenerate into puu beating people up. But I don't attack unless provoked, just like Hagrid's Hippogrif... ( to put things into Kristopher's post modern babble style).

Kristopher ütles ...

Gyms are rubbish. I'm a long-distance runner. As said, you're definitely confusing me with another commenter.

I think I did comment here once on Obama's name. But so have many, and as the New Yorker cover from last week showed, it's an issue that has still not been resolved in the public mind.

Savisaar -- ach, it's impossible to say where the caricatures end and the man begins. It's always open season on Savisaar.

Kristopher ütles ...

Hey, I checked out your blog on your profile page. It seems a lot clearer than your comments. It would be nice to read more. Seriously.

Looking back at the pages of this blog, I see that you have had exchanges with "anonüümne" and "Hirnu-hmx", but I have not been involved in either of those. In any case, both those people are anonymous. I'm not. Some of what they say rubs me the wrong way, too.

On the basis of those exchanges and various monologues I did call you the "Estonian female Lenny Bruce", which I don't know if it is accurate but is nothing if not praise, at least in my book. I don't quite see the reason for your hostility toward me...

Puu ütles ...

Sigh.. Ok Kristopher maybe I am over generalizing.
We can be friends. Just don't provoke me.

Kristopher ütles ...

If Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King were friends, then surely a guy who's more feminist than some women and you can get along.

I didn't provoke you, but strangely enough your comment, in which you compared me a lapsed gym rat who is lurking in Estonia with his family in order to have easy sex (or something on that order), is still undeleted.

Puu ütles ...

Sorry a couple of pages of arguing with Hirnu has gotten me very mean. But although the comments were mistaken perhaps I'm going to leave them for now, just because you asked me to delete them and I don't do the jump and how high thing. Sue me for libel if you want, but I don't think anyone is going to take the comments too seriously anyway.And, until all the nasty comments about me are undeleted that's how it's going to be. You defended yourself admirably but that doesn't make me obligated to rescind my commen ts. And though exagerated my comment have a grain of truth I do happen to think that the neo-colonial thing is going on with most American men in Estonia.You, Guistino, Ilves a couple short nerdy english teachers I know all know you can get a better deal in the marriage department by heading to Eesti. It's been going on for centuries, and Estonia has profited admirably from it, where would the president live after all if it weren't for Catherine ( pretty widely painted to be a camp follower) being so good with Peter.I'm not knocking it, my own father did the same thing. And as to being faithful to estonian men or men in general, my own love life since I've moved to New York has been so varied, that I could hardly pass judgement on anyone.But it does go on a lot. Estonian girls get lots of attention and international marriage.But very often it is with men, just made exotic by location, as the estonian girls themselves are jsut made exotic by locations, its like these relationship completely operating as false semophores and i'm sure it's exciting for the first ten year but I feel like eventually something simple and important is lost. And this might be just from my own experience growing up in a mixed marriage. And now I'm dating a black italian guy so its like the ultimate mix.And I'm admittedly a hypocrite for criticising. And just as you weren't speaking about me but rather about Christina, I wasn't really speaking about you but about the phenomenon in general, because I felt attacked.
And I feel that when you consider the use of psychiatric hospitals in the treatment of political dissidents in the soviet union, notably starting with Estonia's own former president, it should be less of a joking matter. Go see the film Hullumeelsus. Mental institutions were the high end Siberia.

Kristopher ütles ...

I can't sue you for libel in Estonia, thanks to a precedent I can only sue Giustino. (Just kidding.) I think most people assume everyone is anonymous anyway so I don't take it all that seriously, either.

Sure, Estonian incomes are still a third of what they are in the West, but the man-bites-dog story here is that Estonian women have never especially keen on going to the West with some sugardaddy.

Who are these men, anyway? I know a house framer from NJ who is here. Indeed he is in a relationship here and perhaps his prospects would be more limited back home, but he is here because he is a skilled craftsman.

I don't see the neocolonial exploitation you speak of extending to the bedroom and intimate relationships in society. Relationships are a great leveller (unless of course we're talking of the miserable people who are actually prisoners/forced into prostitution, but this is not part of an Estonia discussion).

Sure, sailors and stag party tourists have one-night stands or whatever you want to call them.

Then again, there is an Estonian in every harbour in the world preumably sowing his oats.

My experience is that men who come here actually fall in love or discover a good match and often end up staying because Estonian women don't have an interest in leaving. They have to help their ageing parents, all their university age friends are raising families in nearby towns, etc etc.

Of course there's a cosmopolitan, young professional set of Estonian women who are leading a transient sort of lifestyle to begin with.

Some women go abroad for purely professional reasons, and develop a social life there and marry, etc.

I have known plenty of Americans in Estonia in the past 15 years, but in the majority of cases they have stayed with the Estonian woman rather than going to the INS or CIS or whatever it is and filing for an alien relative. I have had American friends like that who have spent years and years here having a tug of war with their partner, never giving up the hope that she will move away from Estonia with them. (One is currently living back in NJ with his Estonian wife, but she is a programmer and realizes that she can work anywhere. The interests of the child also figured).

In short, I can't see "Estonia" being used as a placeholder for other Eastern European nations. Someone -- I don't remember who -- pointed out that if you Google "Estonian teens" you get a bunch of sociological studies and papers about 4H and Girl Scouts. If you Google "Ukrainian teens" or even "Czech teens" you get the usual brothels/escort services. (I don't know why "teens", I think that if you google girls or women of any country it will be mainly sex sites. Sad reflection on society in any case.)

Puu ütles ...

My experience is that men who come here actually fall in love or discover a good match and often end up staying because Estonian women don't have an interest in leaving.
I think it's still a concept of neo colonialism, you can't find hard working sane gorgeous women that want your average self in America, and I think culturally with Estonian women you get a lot less expectations of parity in the marriage, she will do more of the housework.The average salary in estonia is what 4,000 a year...people aren't really coming for the salary. Though the trade off is that the culture gets preserved or gets new advocates like Guistino. It's fine.

Kristopher ütles ...

US $15,000 annual average as of March, but yeah.

When I came to Estonia, I was making 4000 kroons a month and that went a long way.

Puu ütles ...

Ok. Do your share of the housework (even more sometimes) go to the gym and be aware of your wife's sexual needs and I won't call you a neo colonialist.

Puu ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Kristopher ütles ...

OK, deal. And I promise not to call you a male chauvinist, despite what you may have written.