Iva Glisic

The Milk of Dreams

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07 June 2022

The 59th Venice Art Biennale is an invitation to imagine. After the pandemic caused the event to be postponed for just the third time in its 127-year history (the other two instances being the two world wars), there was hope at the beginning of the year that this would be ‘the Biennale of rebirth’, marking a return to some kind of normal. Amid widespread global crisis, this could easily be dismissed as an optimistic goal ...

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‘We are drawn to this China, even though we still do not know China,’ wrote Soviet avant-garde writer and theorist Sergei Tretyakov in 1925. ‘But we must get to know China, we must get to know it well, and we must get to know it quickly.’ Tretyakov’s call was underpinned by a real sense of political urgency: the failure of socialist revolutions across Europe had prompted a Soviet pivot toward Asia, and China had emerged as a potential partner for fostering ‘an international community of enemies of capital’. Yet despite being geographically adjacent, Russia and China had long perceived each other as unfamiliar and distant. In an effort to bridge this divide, a comprehensive cultural campaign was devised to draw China closer to the Soviet public.

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The books we read and collect can provide telling insight into our lives. Indeed, bookshelves often draw the immediate attention of our guests, who seek to discern clues about us from the titles that we have accumulated. With Stalin’s Library: A dictator and his books, Geoffrey Roberts takes on the role of a curious visitor perusing the impressive library of Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), who, as head of the Soviet Union, amassed a collection of some 25,000 items. Conceptualised as a biography and intellectual portrait, Stalin’s Library joins a crowded field of works aimed at cracking the Stalin enigma. Setting this latest biography apart is its focus on Stalin’s personal library as a basis for constructing a ‘picture of the reading life of the twentieth century’s most self-consciously intellectual dictator’.

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The realisation that our parents are not exactly who we understood them to be can be a profound rite of passage. For some it comes with no forewarning: a random event leads to an accidental disclosure, or substantiates an old rumour. For others this realisation takes shape in a less acute though no less transformative manner. With The Other Side of Absence: Discovering my father’s secrets, Betty O’Neill pieces together her family history in an effort to learn more about her father, a stranger she briefly encountered when she was nineteen. What began as an innocuous exercise at a writers’ retreat would evolve into a three-year research project through which the author uncovers the riveting story of Antoni Jagielski – resistance fighter, Holocaust survivor, unsettled postwar migrant, and absent father.

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The Great Cauldron: A history of southeastern Europe by Marie-Janine Calic, translated by Elizabeth Janik

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October 2019, no. 415

South-eastern Europe is a region defined by ambiguity: with few clear geographic boundaries or consensus over its correct appellation, it is a palimpsest bearing the marks of Balkan, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman, and central European cultures. As the identities of the region’s inhabitants have shifted across the centuries, their position within the European ...

The final week of February in Australia means, among other things, that another summer is almost over. Yet in contrast to the fleeting nature of lived experience, a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia calls attention to the enduring power of art to capture and convey human passions ...

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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?’

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