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Women Against the Tsar
Violent movements that opposed the existing political order erupted all over Europe in the course of the 19th century. Nowhere was revolutionary violence more visible and dramatic than in Russia. There, revolutionaries took the lives of dozens of people, most, though not all of them, high officials. Accepting the label “terrorist” as a badge of honor, the revolutionaries insisted upon the morality and justice of their cause, and they were fully prepared to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of it. Unlike most people considered terrorists today, Russian revolutionaries selected their targets carefully, focusing on those whom they regarded as responsible for the oppressive political and social order and mourning unanticipated civilian casualties. The goal: the replacement of the current order by one that would genuinely represent and serve the people.
Lavished with praise at the time of its 1925 publication, Leonard Cline’s phantasmagoric God Head is being republished so a new generation of readers can marvel at its dark magic. Cline’s mesmerizing debut follows the journey of Paulus Kempf, a fugitive labor agitator who takes refuge with a colony of Finns on the remote shores of Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Kempf, a former surgeon, poet, writer, sculptor, and hyper-intellectual, is at first deeply impressed by the folklore and traditions of the quiet, gentle Finns, not to mention their generosity and hospitality. But he soon begins to play upon their superstitions and exploits their kindness through the power of his cunning and imagination, manipulating them into seeing him as a kind of a god. As Cline’s novel hurtles toward its unforgettable climax, Kempf’s capacity for compassion or mercy swiftly falls to the wayside as he seduces his host’s wife and then murders the man in cold blood. Soon thereafter he carves a giant God Head into the side of a nearby mountainside, which the villagers look upon with awe and fear, held in the thrall of Kempf’s mysterious intimations of its malicious power. Having achieved complete domination over the Finns, Kempf ultimately tires of their gullibility and returns to civilization, his quest for self-mastery complete. God Head’s descent into the dark void of the human heart will thrill modern readers who are sure to cherish this lost literary artifact from the shadow canon of American fiction.
In an abridged translation that retains the grace and passion of the original, Klots and Ufberg present the stunning memoir of a young woman who became an actress in the Gulag. Tamara Petkevich had a relatively privileged childhood in the beautiful, impoverished Petrograd of the Soviet regime’s early years, but when her father—a fervent believer in the Communist ideal-was arrested, 17-year- old Tamara was branded a “daughter of the enemy of the people.” She kept up a search for her father while struggling to support her mother and two sisters, finish school, and enter university. Shortly before the Russian outbreak of World War II, Petkevich was forced to quit school, and against her better judgment, she married an exiled man whom she had met in the lines at the information bureau of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). Her mother and one sister perished in the Nazi siege of Leningrad, and Petkevich was herself arrested. With cinematic detail, Petkevich relates her attempts to defend herself against absurd charges of having a connection to the Leningrad terrorist center, counter-revolutionary propaganda, and anti-Semitism that resulted in a sentence of seven years’ hard labor in the Gulag. While Petkevich became a professional actress in her own right years after her release from the Gulag, she learned her craft on the stages of the camps scattered across the northern Komi Republic. The existence of prisoner theaters and troupes of political prisoners such as the one Petkevich joined is a little-known fact of Gulag life. Petkevich’s depiction not only provides a unique firsthand account of this world-within-a-world but also testifies to the power of art to literally save lives. As Petkevich moves from one form of hardship to another, she retains her desire to live and her ability to love. More than a firsthand record of atrocities committed in Stalinist Russia, Memoir of a Gulag Actress is an invaluable source of information on the daily life and culture of the Soviet Union at the time. Russian literature about the Gulag remains vastly underrepresented in the United States, and Petkevich’s unforgettable memoir will go a long way toward filling this gap. Supplemented with photographs from the author’s personal archive, Petkevich’s story will be of great interest to general readers while providing an important resource for historians, political scientists, and students of Russian culture and history.
Narcyza Zmichowska (1819–76) was the most accomplished female writer to come out of Poland in the mid-nineteenth century. In terms of influence and popularity, she was the George Eliot of East European letters, but her fiction was written less in the realist style than in the romantic one. Her novel The Heathen, rendered here in a crystalline English translation by Ursula Phillips, is the tale of a doomed love affair between Benjamin, a young man from a poor but patriotic rural family, and Aspasia, a femme fatale who is older, beautiful, worldlier, and more sexually liberated.