The Second Installment of Eugenia Ginzburg’s “Whirlwind” #WITMonth

Book review: Within the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginzburg (Amazon / Book Depository) The most fearful thing is that evil becomes ordinary, part of a normal daily routine extending over decades. It’s hard to believe, considering the popularity over time and general excellence of Eugenia Ginzburg’s first memoir, Journey into the Whirlwind, that her second one is less widely read and somewhat difficult to come by. … Continue reading The Second Installment of Eugenia Ginzburg’s “Whirlwind” #WITMonth

A Rare Biography of Ruthless, Enigmatic North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

Book review: The Great Successor, by Anna Fifield (Amazon / Book Depository) I didn’t imagine a book about Kim Jong Un would be an unputdownable page-turner, but here we are. I’m not sure anything I write about The Great Successor is going to do it justice as it’s tough to encapsulate, but I’ll try. Kim Jong Un is the younger son of Kim Jong Il, the second … Continue reading A Rare Biography of Ruthless, Enigmatic North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

Narrating Stalin’s Terror: The Beginning of Eugenia Ginzburg’s Journey

Book review: Journey into the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg I opened the door briskly, with the boldness of despair. If you are to jump over a cliff, better take a run at it and not pause on the brink to look back at the lovely world you are leaving behind. Eugenia Ginzburg’s memoir of her arrest in 1937 on charges that eventually became “terrorism” … Continue reading Narrating Stalin’s Terror: The Beginning of Eugenia Ginzburg’s Journey

Svetlana, In and Out of Stalin’s Shadow

Book review: Stalin’s Daughter, by Rosemary Sullivan (Amazon / Book Depository) “What would it mean to be born Stalin’s daughter, to carry the weight of that name for a lifetime and never be free of it?” “I want to explain to you, he broke my life.” Even writing a biography showing the many sides of Svetlana Alliluyeva often ignored by media, multiple governments, and history, … Continue reading Svetlana, In and Out of Stalin’s Shadow

Inside the North Korean Gulag

Image of Workers’ Party of Korea Monument in Pyongyang by Mannen av börd, edited by Entheta (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Book review: The Aquariums of Pyongyang, by Kang Chol-Hwan, and Pierre Rigoulot (Amazon / Book Depository) During the first days of my detention, I met a kid who wore black socks. At least that’s what I thought until I … Continue reading Inside the North Korean Gulag

A Darkly Funny, Sweet Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Countries

Book review: Miss Ex-Yugoslavia, by Sofija Stefanovic Amazon My mother said, “just imagine this situation we’re in is a massive black cloud falling from the sky, and be like a net. Allow it to pass through you.” I pictured a net through which a black cloud is squeezed, dispersing into many pieces; I imagined holding my breath as it passed, careful not to catch the … Continue reading A Darkly Funny, Sweet Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Countries

What Do Bears and the People of Former Communist Countries Have in Common?

Book review: Dancing Bears: True Stories About Longing for the Old Days, by Witold Szabłowski Amazon / Book Depository   Another version of this book, newly published in its first English translation, has the subtitle “True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny”. That sums up perfectly what it’s about – stories about how and seemingly why humans and trained bears can’t seem to break the … Continue reading What Do Bears and the People of Former Communist Countries Have in Common?

Heartbreaking, Illuminating North Korean Defector’s Memoir that Lingers

Book review: A River in Darkness, by Masaji Ishikawa (Amazon) What do I remember of that night? The night I escaped from North Korea? There are so many things that I don’t remember, that I’ve put out of my mind forever…But I’ll tell you what I do recall. It’s drizzling. But soon the drizzle turns to torrential rain. Sheets of rain so heavy, I’m soaked … Continue reading Heartbreaking, Illuminating North Korean Defector’s Memoir that Lingers

Red Weather Reports: Art and Memories from Siberia

Book review: Stalin’s Meteorologist, by Olivier Rolin (Amazon / Book Depository) I have not glossed over Alexey Feodosievich’s faults, when I was aware of them. I have not sought to turn him into an exemplary hero. He was neither a scientific genius nor a great poet, he was in many ways an ordinary man, but he was innocent. In 2012, French author Olivier Rolin discovered … Continue reading Red Weather Reports: Art and Memories from Siberia

A Girl, Growing Up and Growing Wiser, in Leningrad

Book review: A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova Book Depository This memoir has one of the most beautiful and intensely evocative openings I’ve read in a long time: I wish my mother had come from Leningrad, from the world of Pushkin and the tsars, of granite embankments and lace ironwork, of pearly domes buttressing the low sky. Leningrad’s sophistication would have infected her the … Continue reading A Girl, Growing Up and Growing Wiser, in Leningrad

Many Names, Many Lives Of A North Korean Defector

Book review: The Girl With Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee with David John (Amazon / Book Depository) Leaving North Korea is not like leaving any other country. It is more like leaving another universe. I will never truly be free of its gravity, no matter how far I journey. After reading Barbara Demick’s brilliant Nothing to Envy, her group biography of several North Korean defectors, I was fascinated by … Continue reading Many Names, Many Lives Of A North Korean Defector

A Voice from the Gulag

Book review: The Day Will Pass Away, by Ivan Chistyakov (Amazon / Book Depository) So even my inner word recedes day by day into eternity until it reaches freezing point. You start believing they can make you lose all emotion. Yet every day brings you nearer to freedom. Only, what kind of path are you walking to get there? A path of defeats, misery and rage. A path that … Continue reading A Voice from the Gulag