cover image PUSHKIN'S CHILDREN: Writings on Russia and Russians

PUSHKIN'S CHILDREN: Writings on Russia and Russians

Tat'iana Tolstaia, . . Houghton Mifflin/ Mariner, $12 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-618-12500-5

Written between 1990 and 2000, the 20 essays in this collection offer a progressive, dynamic meditation on Russia's recent political and cultural climate. Many of the pieces are book reviews culled from such publications as the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, but Tolstaya, an internationally acclaimed journalist and fiction writer (The Golden Porch; Sleepwalker in a Fog), goes far beyond the task of reviewing. Her careful and succinct critiques offer original, highly informed takes on the books' subjects, ranging from political biography to cultural history. Tolstaya has little patience for writers who shore shoddy research with patronizing egotism, illustrated by such lines from this stinger of a review of Gail Sheehy's 1990 biography of Gorbachev: "You have to be quite fearless, an adventurer, extraordinarily self-assured, to offer American readers a book about a country that you yourself do not understand." In 1991, Tolstaya defends Yeltsin against criticisms that his decrees to wrest power from Communist Party leaders were undemocratic: "A man who watches a wolf devouring his child does not begin a discussion of animal rights." Tolstaya reserves particular contempt for Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In reviews of two of his works, she finds that the isolated writer and political activist idol was rendered obsolete long before his 1995 return to Russia. In the end, Tolstaya's essays in this compact, historically significant volume offer a fascinating, highly intelligent analysis of Russian society and politics. (Jan.)