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From the reign of Tsar Nicholas II to the brutal cult of Stalin to the ebullient, uncertain days of perestroika, nowhere has the inextricable relationship between politics and culture been more starkly illustrated than in twentieth-century Russia. In the first book to fully examine the intricate and often deadly interconnection between Russian rulers and Russian artists, cultural historian Solomon Volkov (who experienced firsthand many of the events he describes) brings to life the human stories behind some of the greatest masterpieces of our time.
Here is Tolstoy, who used his godlike place among the Russian people to rail against the autocracy, even as he eschewed violence; Gorky, the first native writer to openly welcome the revolution and who would go on to become Stalin’s closest cultural advisor; Solzhenitsyn, who famously brought the horrors of the Soviet regime to light. Here. too, are Nabokov, Pasternak, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova. In each case, Volkov analyzes the alternate determination and despair, hope and terror borne by writers in a country where, in Solzhenitsyn’s maxim, “a great writer is like a second government.”
This is also the story of the nation’s leading lights in painting, music, dance, theater, and cinema—Kandinsky and Malevich, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nijinsky, Stanislavsky and Meyerhold, and Eisenstein and Tarkovsky—and the ways in which their triumphs influenced, and were influenced by, the leadership of the time.
With an insider’s insight, Volkov describes what it was like to work under constant threat of arrest, exile, or execution. He reminds us of the many artists who were compelled to live as e;migre;s, and explores not only their complicated relationships with their adopted countries but Russia’s love-hate relationship with Western culture as a whole—a relationship that has grown increasingly charged in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Epic in scope and intimate in detail, The Magical Chorus is the definitive account of a remarkable era in Russia’s complex cultural life.