THE VIEW FROM THE VYSOTKA: A Portrait of Russia Today Through One of Moscow's Most Famous Addresses

Anne Nivat, Author, Frances E. Forte, Translator , trans. from the French by Frances E. Forte. St. Martin's $24.95 (228p) ISBN 978-0-312-32278-6

Nivat, a prize-winning French journalist (Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya ), offers a rare glimpse into a cross-section of Moscow citizens, all of whom reside in a vysotka (one of seven skyscrapers built under Stalin) on Ironmongers Quay. During the 1950s, the vysotkas were constructed in the center of the city to satisfy Stalin's vision of a new Soviet society. Built by zeks (political prisoners), the vysotkas were architectural giants designed with vast marble-walled lobbies, high ceilings and equipped with restaurants, movie theaters and shops. Apartments in the vysotka, where the author currently lives, were originally allocated by the state to creative artists and other elite Russians of whom Stalin approved, but the social upheaval since perestroika has changed the makeup of the residents. Privatization was permitted and many of the original tenants sold or rented out their apartments. Through Nivat's skillful interviews with selected occupants, textured images of Moscow life emerge. A German banker recounts his current achievements as a capitalist in Russia, and an elderly former ballerina with the Bolshoi looks back on her career. In a revealing conversation, descendants of the merciless Bolshevik who founded the KGB try to justify his actions. Galia, the former wife of poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (who wrote about the massacre of Ukrainian Jews in Babi Yar ), recalls the discrimination she suffered because she is a Jew. In this historical gem, Nivat points out that state subsidies to the vysotkas have been severely reduced, leading to deterioration in repairs and services for older residents, while newer, wealthier tenants undertake their own apartment renovations. Photos not seen by PW . (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
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