Joseph Stalin wanted this wartime correspondence published, and one can see why: he comes off best. As the authors comment, ‘the transcript of the Big Three meetings demonstrates Stalin’s careful mastery of the issues and his superior skill as a diplomatist, regularly keeping his silence but then speaking out in a terse and timely manner at key moments’. He is the one with his eye on the ball, always remembering what his main objectives are and keeping his correspondents off balance with his adroit switches between intimacy and admonition.

Compared with him, Winston Churchill is impulsive and over-emotional, and Franklin D. Roosevelt is lazy. The two Allied leaders were excited about the opportunity to ‘build a personal relationship with the hitherto reclusive Soviet leader’, while Stalin, pleased at being finally admitted to the A-league, looked forward to ‘the challenges of playing against (and with) his US and British interlocutors’. One way of reading the epistolary relationship is that Stalin, feigning a personal relationship because that’s what the others wanted, always remained a cold calculator of his nation’s interest. That’s the way Stalin himself surely liked to see it. But it may not be the whole truth.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Sheila Fitzpatrick reviews The Kremlin Letters edited by David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov
  • Contents Category Russian History
  • Book Title The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s wartime correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt
  • Book Author David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Bloomsbury, $34.99 pb, 570 pp, 9781472966247
Monday, 25 March 2019 11:52

Letters to the Editor - April 2019

ABR welcomes succinct letters and website comments. Time and space permitting, we will print any reply from the reviewer with the original letter or comment. If you're interested in writing to ABR, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Correspondents must provide a telephone number or email address for verification.


Putin’s preference

Dear Editor,

Trigger WarningsI enjoyed this review. I would have liked Jeff Sparrow and Russell Blackford, the reviewer of Sparrow’s interesting book Trigger Warnings, to have explored the question of why the Russian political mainstream (that overwhelmingly supports Putin’s elected presidency of Russia) feels more comfortable with the American republican pro-Trump blue-collar right than with the anti-Trump Democrat middle-class liberal left. A viewing of Stephen Colbert’s sarcastic and condescending interview with Oliver Stone on Stone’s ‘Putin Interviews’ television series, when Colbert literally sooled a mocking studio audience onto Stone, will give clues – as will any of Rachel Maddow’s many malevolent diatribes on TV against Russia.

Tony Kevin, Gordon, ACT


Australia on his mind

Dear Editor,

Congratulations to Text Publishing for adding D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo to its Classics series of iconic Australian books. It reprints the original Martin Secker edition of 1923: apparently, the definitive Cambridge text was unavailable. There is a new introduction by Nicolas Rothwell. He celebrates the novel for its unprecedented insight into the appearance and atmosphere of the Australian landscape, an achievement too often overlooked. There are, however, two other issues.

Rothwell says: ‘Australia was a way-stage for the Lawrences on their long round-the-world journey, nothing more: the destination of the first ship they could find leaving Colombo port.’ However, on the ship from Italy, Lawrence had written, ‘If we don’t want to go on living in Ceylon I shall go to Australia if we can manage it.’ In subsequent letters he confirmed this, using the words ‘probably’ and ‘shall’. In his book D.H. Lawrence’s Australia, David Game meticulously documents Lawrence’s strong interest in the country, which went back to 1907. Australia was very much on his mind.

Rothwell addresses the issue of Lawrence’s knowledge of the existing political background, but cites only Robert Darroch. There certainly were similarities between actual organisations and events in New South Wales and those in Kangaroo, but from them Darroch built an edifice of speculation that the major Australian characters were based on real persons whom Lawrence had encountered. Darroch’s earliest book was the first to appear on the subject, and has been accepted in many quarters as authoritative, overshadowing Joseph Davis’s subsequent D.H. Lawrence at Thirroul. Davis states that one must be ‘extremely cautious’ in considering Lawrence’s possible sources, which ‘mount at an exponential rate’. He mentions several possibilities, concluding that they remain a mystery.

John Lowe, Ormond, Vic.


Behrouz Boochani

Both comments below are in response to Behrouz Boochani's poem 'Flight from Manus', published in the March issue of Australian Book Review. 

 

Dear Editor,

This man makes music with words, a symphony from the heart.

Clythe Greenwood (online comment)

 

Dear Editor,

This is beautiful. Says so much. Omid Tofighian’s translation makes it ring too. Thank you, both of you.

Jo van Kool (online comment)

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  • Custom Article Title Letters to the Editor - April 2019
  • Contents Category Letters
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Letters to the Editor: Tony Kevin from Gordon writes on Jeff Sparrow's Trigger Warnings; John Lowe from Ormond on D. H. Lawrence; and some comments on Behrouz Boochani and his poem 'Flight from Manus' ...

On its first appearance in Russia, Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment was the hit of the season. It was serialised throughout 1866 in the journal The Russian Messenger. Nikolai Strakhov, Dostoevsky’s first biographer, described the novel’s effect on the reading public as spectacular: ‘[A]ll that lovers of reading talked about was that novel, about which they complained because of its crushing power … so that people with strong nerves almost became ill, while people with weak nerves had to leave off reading.’ Other contemporaries testified similarly: that the novel, even for Russian readers, was not an easy read.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover reviews 'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    On its first appearance in Russia, Dostoevsky’s novel 'Crime and Punishment' was the hit of the season. It was serialised throughout 1866 in the journal 'The Russian Messenger'. Nikolai Strakhov, Dostoevsky’s first biographer, described the novel’s effect on the reading public as spectacular: ‘[A]ll that lovers of reading talked ...

  • Book Title Crime and Punishment
  • Book Author Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Oxford University Press, $34.95 hb, 545 pp, 9780198709701

‘Heroes, hero worship, and the heroic in history’: so did one observer describe the essence of Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940). A series of portraits of ‘great men’, the book culminates with Lenin’s arrival on a German train at Petrograd’s Finland Station in April 1917, shortly after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. In six months, Lenin – against all odds, by dint of sheer will – would overthrow the provisional government and establish the world’s first communist state.

Seventy-four years later, one of Lenin’s successors would dismember that state, almost inadvertently. ‘Heroic’ is not a word often applied to Mikhail Gorbachev, certainly not in Russia, where polls rank Putin, Lenin, Stalin, and even Brezhnev, who presided over the ‘era of stagnation’, far higher than Gorbachev. He is disliked by two-thirds of Russians and viewed favourably only by about one-fifth. When he ran for office five years after being booted out, he received a humiliating 0.5 per cent of the vote. Although Gorbachev, now eighty-seven, lives in Moscow, his daughter moved to Germany partly to escape the vilification still routinely heaped on the man who lost an empire.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Barbara Keys reviews 'Gorbachev: His life and times' by William Taubman
  • Contents Category Russia
  • Custom Highlight Text

    ‘Heroes, hero worship, and the heroic in history’: so did one observer describe the essence of Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940). A series of portraits of ‘great men’, the book culminates with Lenin’s arrival on a German train at Petrograd’s Finland Station in April 1917, shortly after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas ...

  • Book Title Gorbachev
  • Book Author William Taubman
  • Book Subtitle His life and times
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Simon & Schuster, $49.99 hb, 877 pp, 9781471147968

The centenary of the Russian Revolution has just passed, leaving a rather eerie silence, as Vladimir Putin’s Russia decided not to hold any official commemoration. In the current climate of what has been called a ‘new Cold War’ with Russia, people in the West often forget that the Soviet Union and its communist regime ceased to exist in 1991. The Russia of our imagination is still a superpower – despite the fact that its GDP has shrunk to approximately the size of Spain’s, putting it just below Australia in global ranking. Putin is not Stalin, however; for him the Soviet past is a mixed bag, part of which he wants to keep and part not. The once sacred October Revolution seems to be on the throw-out list.

Western Russia scholars were wary of the centenary, too. The general tenor of their assessments was that the revolution was a failure because it led to Stalinism. While Eric Hobsbawm’s judgement in The Age of Extremes (1994) was that the Russian Revolution was the key event of the global twentieth century, historians in the centenary year were keen to downplay its significance. In this, as in many other issues during his distinguished career in Soviet studies, American historian Ronald Grigor Suny is not marching in step. He thought the revolution mattered in the 1960s, when, as a young radical Marxist, he entered the historical profession and became a Soviet specialist, and he thinks it matters now. His lively and erudite new book, comprising six historiographical essays focusing on the interpretation of the revolution and its aftermath, is eloquent testimony to this belief.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Sheila Fitzpatrick review 'Red Flag Unfurled: History, historians, and the Russian Revolution' by Ronald Grigor Suny
  • Contents Category Russian History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The centenary of the Russian Revolution has just passed, leaving a rather eerie silence, as Vladimir Putin’s Russia decided not to hold any official commemoration. In the current climate of what has been called a ‘new Cold War’ with Russia, people in the West often forget that the Soviet Union and its communist regime ...

  • Book Title Red Flag Unfurled
  • Book Author Ronald Grigor Suny
  • Book Subtitle History, historians, and the Russian Revolution
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Verso, $39.99 hb, 314 pp, 9781784785642

Winston Churchill once famously said of Russia: ‘It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ The aphorism is still cited regularly today by analysts and commentators confused by the opaque Russian state. Regrettably, the sentences that followed have been largely consigned to history. Churchill continued: ‘But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.’

Shaun Walker, a long-time Moscow correspondent for the British press (most recently The Guardian), provides more clues to understanding modern Russia in his first book. An orchestrated campaign to manipulate history, identity, and memory, Walker argues, forms a central aspect of President Vladimir Putin’s nearly two-decade long reign in his expansive post-Soviet empire.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Kieran Pender reviews 'The Long Hangover: Putin’s new Russia and the ghosts of the past' by Shaun Walker
  • Contents Category Russia
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Winston Churchill once famously said of Russia: ‘It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ The aphorism is still cited regularly today by analysts and commentators confused by the opaque Russian state. Regrettably, the sentences that followed have been largely consigned to history ...

  • Book Title The Long Hangover
  • Book Author Shaun Walker
  • Book Subtitle Putin’s new Russia and the ghosts of the past
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Oxford University Press, $44.95 hb, 288 pp, 9780190659240

It is now widely believed that Russia and its agents interfered with the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump get elected. In Collusion: How Russia helped Trump win the White House, journalist and author Luke Harding investigates the likelihood that Trump and his associates colluded with Russia to achieve that goal.

It is not an easy task. At first blush, the idea itself seems fantastical – the stuff of Cold War novels or conspiracy theories. Further, Harding is delving into the non-binary world of intelligence, where there are no definite truths, only ‘degrees of veracity’. Identifying and evaluating information from within the murky and incestuous world of post-Soviet Russia – a world where ministers, spies, and oligarchs do Vladimir Putin’s bidding as the sine qua non of survival – presents challenges, as does piercing the veil of Trump’s sprawling, often opaque, business empire.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Varun Ghosh reviews 'Collusion: How Russia helped Trump win the White House' by Luke Harding
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Custom Highlight Text

    It is now widely believed that Russia and its agents interfered with the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump get elected ...

  • Book Title Collusion
  • Book Author Luke Harding
  • Book Subtitle How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Guardian Books/Faber, $29.99 pb, 344 pp, 9781783351497

When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in 2015, the response in the Anglophone world was general bewilderment. Who was she? The response in Russia was the opposite: intense, personal, targeted. Alexievich wasn’t a real writer, detractors said; she had only won the Nobel because the West loves critics of Putin.

Alexievich is kind of a journalist, kind of a social historian. What makes her work different, and important, is that she collects the voices of real people, collates them, and redistributes them, without imposing narrative or explanation. Even biographical information is scant. There is enough to give the speaker authority, but not enough to construe character or personality.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Miriam Cosic reviews 'The Unwomanly Face of War' by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Contents Category History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in 2015, the response in the Anglophone world was general bewilderment. Who was she? The response in Russia was the opposite: intense, personal, targeted. Alexievich wasn’t a real writer, detractors said; she had only won the Nobel because the West loves critics of Putin ...

  • Book Title The Unwomanly Face of War
  • Book Author by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Penguin Classics, $29.99 pb, 372 pp, 9780141983523

Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has redefined many features of US politics, not the least of which has been the nation’s relationship with its former Cold War nemesis. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ Trump asked while campaigning, ‘if we actually got along with Russia?’  This call for stronger Russian–American relations should have been unremarkable, particularly as it echoed a desire for closer cooperation with Moscow voiced by every newly minted US president since George H.W. Bush. Yet since his election Trump’s obsequious praise of Vladimir Putin, along with his brash disclosure of classified information to the Russian foreign minister – and ultimately the omnipresent sense that there is much more still to come on his dealings with the Kremlin – frame today’s rapprochement in very different terms. As the world seeks to make sense of this new political reality, it is hardly surprising that the study of post-Soviet Russia has become a topic of renewed popular interest.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Iva Glisic reviews 'Who Lost Russia?: How the world entered a new Cold War' by Peter Conradi
  • Contents Category Russia
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has redefined many features of US politics, not the least of which has been the nation’s relationship with its former Cold War nemesis. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ Trump asked while campaigning, ‘if we actually got along with Russia?’

  • Book Title Who Lost Russia?
  • Book Author Peter Conradi
  • Book Subtitle How the world entered a new Cold War
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio OneWorld, $38.99 hb, 384 pp, 9781786070418

The relationship between science and power is central to many struggles of the present. Politics impinges on science when funding is allocated to ‘applied’ or ‘fundamental’ research, when decisions are reached about what should be taught in schools, when governments determine if people can be forced to vaccinate their children, what kinds of interventions into reproduction are allowable, or if we should accept the consensus view of climate scientists about the effects of fossil fuel consumption. The Soviet Union provides a particularly intriguing case study. A state with a large scientific establishment, it was ruled by a party which itself claimed a ‘scientific worldview’: Marxism–Leninism. Stalin was hailed as a ‘corypheus of science’ with a far-ranging mandate to set the agenda.

Under such leadership the politics of science moved between two extremes. On the one end was evolutionary biology, which was taken over by a crank with excellent political skills: T.D. Lysenko. He managed to convince the dictator that his odd concoction of Lamarckism (the theory that acquired characteristics could be passed on), half-understood Darwinism, peasant wisdom, and Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism was more ‘materialist’ and therefore more ‘true’ than the ‘idealist’ and maybe even ‘fascist’ theories of modern genetics. The victory of this pseudo-science in 1948 wreaked havoc on Soviet biology in a field which turned out to be one of the sciences of the future. This story has been covered by a large number of studies, beginning with Zhores Medvedev’s dissident The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko, smuggled abroad and published in English in 1969. Other classics include David Joravsky’s The Lysenko Affair (1970) and Loren Graham’s Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union (1972). Graham returned to the topic in Lysenko’s Ghost (2016), conclusively debunking the notion that Lysenkoism might have been a precursor of epigenetics.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Mark Edele reviews 'Stalin and the Scientists: A History of triumph and tragedy 1905–1953' by Simon Ings
  • Contents Category History
  • Book Title Stalin and the Scientists
  • Book Author Simon Ings
  • Book Subtitle A History of Triumph and Tragedy 1905–1953
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Faber & Faber $49.99 hb, 527 pp, 9780571290079
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