The Arbat

I just finished the novel The Children of the Arbat, given to me by my friend John. He knew I HAD to read it (even though I had never heard of it before) because of my whole Stalin interest (here’s one of the many posts I wrote about him) – and he told me that the book, although fiction, contains one of the best psychological portraits of Josef Stalin he had ever read. Shivers! Stalin makes my blood run cold. I’ve read all the biographies out there (okay, not all – but most of the main ones) – and he’s a tough study. He really is. I devoured Children of the Arbat and will be doing a large post about it at some point in my life – just not now, because I don’t have the time. It’s such a big subject.

The book takes place in the Arbat – a neighborhood in Moscow with a long long history. (I suppose most everything in Russia has a long long history!) I also found some pictures of it online – it looks adorable. You do get a sense, from the novel, of the quaintness of this community, the artistic life of the Arbat, the jazz clubs, the theatres – The novel follows a group of kids who grew up together in the Arbat, and we see what happens to them as the Revolution begins to eat its young.

The novel ends with the murder of Kirov.

You SHIVER with dread – knowing the terror that is ahead for all of these people. I do want to do it justice – a big long post about it, with excerpts – the Stalin sections (he is a character in the book – as is Kirov and many other names that anyone who has studied Russian history will recognize – Yagoda, Bukharin … )

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5 Responses to The Arbat

  1. John says:

    When I was visiting the Arbat on a regular basis in 1991, it was a place for artists and mafiosi to sell stuff on little tables in the street. I bought some exquisite matryoski and Palekh boxes there, as well as a painting of Behemoth (the Cat from Master and Margarita) swinging from the chandelier and shooting it out with the NKVD.

    Occassionally you’d run into a drunk old veteran of the Great Patriotic War selling his and his buddies’ medals and pins. I never had the heart to buy one, although I dearly would like to own one – I think that stuff ought to stay in the country of origin, and I saw it as vicitmizing the old geezers once again.

    It had the same flavor in the 90s as in Rybakov’s novel – jazz clubs, seedy Georgian restaurants, political operatives, mafiosi, gypsies, and foreign tourists, all mixing with the average natives.

  2. JFH says:

    Very slightly OT, but Robert Conquest has some commentary about “Stalinophilia” in yesterday’s WSJ… unfortunately you have to have a subscription to read it.

  3. Mr. Bingley says:

    John, send me a photo of that Behemoth painting! I love that book!

  4. Mr. Bingley says:

    Please please please!!!!

  5. red says:

    John – so fascinating. I would love to go there someday.

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