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The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life…

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule (2016)

by Igort

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I had an urge to stop reading just 20 pages in, and I wish I had given in to it. There may be some good information in here, but the book is such a disjointed mess that it made me less sympathetic to the people who have suffered under Soviet rule. ( )
  villemezbrown | Jul 28, 2018 |
Adding the the string of depressing and demoralizing books I've been reading, let's read one about Soviet Ukraine and the murder of Anna Politkovskaya / The Second Chechen War. Because why be happy when you can read about how horrible humanity can be to each other?

In one sense, the stories are light. Most are people telling about their lives, without poetics, without justifications. This is how it was. This is the, to modify Kundera, the incredible lightness of being. But this is also where the weightiness comes in, from what it was/is. There was no need to put the weight of writing into the narrative, because the weight is the reality. The reader isn't meant to be emotionally-exploited into caring, because trying to add that on top of the weight of what happened/is happening would drag us all down. The stories are stark enough as it is, difficult enough to chew through without an addition of faux-literary pretension and posturing. They float like a helium balloon. They drag you down like a concrete block.

But then there are gaps, or misprints, or entire sections seemingly misplaced. Ukraine in the first half, pages cut off mid-sentence. Then later, in the 2000s, in Chechnya, Ukrainian sections reappear. A misprint? A throw-back? Proof that Russia as a concept has often been a fascist one, with concept-mother-Russia first, the humans in the edges of her empire second? Or just questions? Questions questions questions. How can we be so cruel? How can we be so empty?

Add more and the book sinks under the weight of all the wrongs it wants to document. But as it is, it's transience can feel like an insult. Can you fix this? Can anyone? How do you write about the worst of humanity without sickening us to the point of not wanting to read?

So what to do? More questions. All I have is questions. I can play as Stalin in Civ IV, the man who starved my distant relatives in the Holodomor, which the first half of this book talks about (and which, contrary to the blurbs, I did know about beforehand since I am Canadian, of part Ukrainian descent, and it's a teeny-tiny deal here). But to play as Stalin, how is that appropriate? How is any of this fair? I feel sick with not knowing the way out of this maze.

The front says like Joe Sacco. I scoffed. Then I read it. It is like Joe Sacco though. I shouldn't have scoffed. Read at your own risk.

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort went on sale March 15, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  reluctantm | Jun 24, 2016 |
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Graphic novelist Igort illuminates two harrowing moments in recent history--the Ukraine famine and the assassination of a Russian journalist.

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