Review: 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution

Posted 11 October, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution is a collection of literary responses to one of the most cataclysmic events in modern world history, which exposes the immense conflictedness and doubt, conviction and hope, pessimism and optimism which political events provoked among contemporary writers – sometimes at the same time, even in the same person. This dazzling panorama of thought, language and form includes work by authors who are already well known to the English-speaking world (Bulgakov, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Mayakovsky), as well as others, whose work we have the pleasure of encountering here for the very first time in English. Edited by Boris Dralyuk, the acclaimed translator of Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry (also published by Pushkin Press), 1917 includes works by some of the best Russian writers – some already famous in the English-speaking world, some published here for the very first time. It is an anthology for everyone: those who are coming to Russian literature for the first time, those who are already experienced students of it, and those who simply want to know how it felt to live through this extreme period in history.

I snatched this book up a few months ago whilst parusing at Book City with friends. Of course anything written by Russian authors would catch my attention, and I thought this was an interesting collection because the works featured here are specifically from the time of the Revolution so there’s that first-hand reaction and creativity stemming from that period. What is also pretty cool about this collection is that it includes works from writers who are not well-known to the English-speaking world: Alexey Kraysky, Zinaida Gippius, Yefim Zozulya. Some authors ring faint bells in my head from my days in grad school and was researching Soviet Russian authors for my own research, but thankfully this collection includes a brief biography about the author prior to their work.

Having said that, I wouldn’t personally recommend this book for those readers approaching Russian literature for the first time (see this post if you’re looking for recommendations there). Unless you’re interested this period of Soviet/Russian history, the works featured here tend to be on the dry side. Again, a personal preference, but it talks a lot about the engineering of a new society, the engineering of a new man, the mechanics of life, the march onward with progress (and trust me, the early years of the Revolution really focused on machines, it feels a bit devoid after a bit, but hey, they loved it). From a historian’s standpoint it’s intriguing because it definitely reflects the ideas that they’re pursuing at the time and the abolition of the old order, but if you’re picking this up for leisurely reading, you may want to consider starting somewhere else instead.

Nonetheless I like the idea of this book being available, the concept is great and is a valuable resource especially for students of Soviet/Russian history and literature.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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