For LitHub, I review two new releases by contemporary Russian writer Polina Barskova (both translated into English). Her book of hybrid essays and book of poetry examine Soviet triumphalism — and the traumatic tension between official mythology and private recollection. I argue that in no other moment during our lifetimes has Russia’s cruel amnesia been more devastating than the current invasion of Ukraine:
Euphemisms paper over these gruesome details and the eventual million deaths. In the official rendition of the Siege, Leningrad’s victims were selfless heroes who enabled Soviet victory over the Nazis. A poem in Air Raid renders radio broadcasts with their lofty sloganeering: “Geopolitics! Teutons at the border! / Fire and infestations of Reich!” In the play at the end of Living Pictures, a character complains: “…they just go on about the same thing—victorious battles and the defenders’ valor. Don’t look here, look over there!” The pivoting neck, the whiplash of looking at and away from atrocity, is the aftermath of state-compliant storytelling.
Read the full review here.