Who? Rostislav Dubinsky, a world-renowned violinist whose group, the Borodin Quartet, played at Stalin’s funeral. Part-time Russian, full-time Jew.
What? An autobiography in which the author meets every famous Russian musician of the time, has a trip to America and tries to avoid being busted for not loving life in the Soviet Union.
When? 1980s, when the guy was old.
How? Anecdote-by-anecdote, with reconstructed dialogue that makes everyone sound like characters in a Tony award-winning one-man Broadway show.
Why? Although Dubinsky’s complaints about life in the Soviet Union rarely wander into political rhetoric, his portrayal of life as a musician employed by a culturally-invasive bureaucratic state is compelling, and his colouring of contemporaries like Shostakovich and Oistrakh adds charm. But, there’s a snag: the prose is cheap and predictable, and the anecdotal gloss makes every retelling seem somewhere short of authentic. If it is not ghostwritten, and if Dubinsky had not begrudged his KGB handlers, he might have made a rather successful hack for a state newspaper.
6 November 2016
Who? Faubion Bowers, a flamboyant culture critic from Oklahoma, later to inexplicably rescue the Japanese art of kabuki from extinction.
What? A biography of the fin de siècle Russian composer Alexander Scriabin: a baby-faced solipsist and syn-aesthetic with a knackered right hand.
When? 1960s, and smacking of vaguely pre-acceptable speech.
How? Via sprawling examinations of the composer’s holidays and extensive quotations from boring domestic letters.
Why? Bowers’ fascination with the quasi-mystic Scriabin stays on the proper side of worship; he appreciates the music without indulging the pie-in-the-sky program notes that obsess most devotees. Instead, Scriabin’s poetry is presented plainly alongside the context of his development as a composer, and thankfully the two can be firmly separated. Bowers at once reinforces the untimely psychological force of the music, whilst dimming the mysticism that still surrounds the composer’s legacy. It is unfortunate that this legacy is not explored in the biography, as Scriabin, despite being examined in minute detail for 600 stodgy pages, dies from a lip-sore two pages before the end.
16 October 2016
After several months wresting our content from the hands of the Mossad (or more likely simply untangling the web of bullshit spun by some 13 year-old cyberpunk in LA), we are finally back in business.
Use, peruse, but try not to abuse. Follow the links for short stories, book reviews and outsider shout-outs, and if your cousin is a bigwig at Penguin, by all means get in touch.
Let’s do this.