Category: Alexander Zinoviev

book of books – The Madhouse


Most of the great works of Russian literature are either in the 19th century or from a select band of writers that have made a reputation in the West from the 20th century. But if you go looking there are some real gems to be found from writers that used their talent to highlight the madness of the Soviet system and Alexander Zinoviev is among those.

It is not too difficult to find works that are written during the years of the Stalin purges but this is set against the era of Brezhnev when things were in the odd state of being mocked but still having teeth.

The title refers to the nickname for the institution where the main character works but it is of course a play on the entire country and the communist system.

Plot summary
The story evolves around a junior research fellow (JRF) in an academic institute who half heartedly plans becoming a party member and moving up to the next step on the ladder. One of JRF’s jobs is to liaise with the mentally ill who keep trying to send in treatises to the academy and as a result he meets someone he refers to as ‘the terrorist’ and along with a collection of people in his head – Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the KGB leaders Iron Felix and Beria – he spends most of his time living in a fantasy world. When he is not participating or watching those mock the system, spending time with women or arguing with the voices in his head he has to live in a small apartment with neighbours only too happy to denounce him. The result of that is that the KGB pick up on his trial and are determined to nail him for planning political assassinations. His friends and colleagues are interviewed and the case against him deepens. He is sent to a rest home and when he returns at a critical stage in his career the men in the trench coats come for him and take him away.

Is it well written?
It is sometimes difficult to work out just what is happening because you sense there is an assumption that you will be familiar with the machinations of the soviet state. But what does become clear through the use of the historical voices in JRF’s head is that the system was built on madness, thrived on it and even when it is falling apart continues to function like a drunk lunatic. The sense of unreality that must have always existed but was something to be feared in Stalin’s time is there but with a leader everyone jokes about and a West everyone is jealous of it seems acceptable to attack the system. But as JRF shows you can still be hurt and lose your career and your lodgings if you get on the wrong side of the few nutters left running the country.

Should it be read?
It is not one of those books that jumps out at you and comes with glowing reviews all over the dust jacket but it does deserve a read if you are interested in Russian literature. Along with other accounts of the communist years this is one of the few so far that I have read that is set against the background of the Brezhnev era and it is different from other novels as a result. There is no civil war, no Stalin and no second world war. But there is a weary awareness about the lies and the terror that has gone before and the awful acceptance that to get on you still have to kowtow to that system.

Summary
Junior researcher with beard and a free mind – full of historical communist figures – gets caught up in his own fantasy and is crushed by the state leaving you to wonder just who is mad

Version read – Paladin paperback

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book of books – The Madhouse


Most of the great works of Russian literature are either in the 19th century or from a select band of writers that have made a reputation in the West from the 20th century. But if you go looking there are some real gems to be found from writers that used their talent to highlight the madness of the Soviet system and Alexander Zinoviev is among those.

It is not too difficult to find works that are written during the years of the Stalin purges but this is set against the era of Brezhnev when things were in the odd state of being mocked but still having teeth.

The title refers to the nickname for the institution where the main character works but it is of course a play on the entire country and the communist system.

Plot summary
The story evolves around a junior research fellow (JRF) in an academic institute who half heartedly plans becoming a party member and moving up to the next step on the ladder. One of JRF’s jobs is to liaise with the mentally ill who keep trying to send in treatises to the academy and as a result he meets someone he refers to as ‘the terrorist’ and along with a collection of people in his head – Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the KGB leaders Iron Felix and Beria – he spends most of his time living in a fantasy world. When he is not participating or watching those mock the system, spending time with women or arguing with the voices in his head he has to live in a small apartment with neighbours only too happy to denounce him. The result of that is that the KGB pick up on his trial and are determined to nail him for planning political assassinations. His friends and colleagues are interviewed and the case against him deepens. He is sent to a rest home and when he returns at a critical stage in his career the men in the trench coats come for him and take him away.

Is it well written?
It is sometimes difficult to work out just what is happening because you sense there is an assumption that you will be familiar with the machinations of the soviet state. But what does become clear through the use of the historical voices in JRF’s head is that the system was built on madness, thrived on it and even when it is falling apart continues to function like a drunk lunatic. The sense of unreality that must have always existed but was something to be feared in Stalin’s time is there but with a leader everyone jokes about and a West everyone is jealous of it seems acceptable to attack the system. But as JRF shows you can still be hurt and lose your career and your lodgings if you get on the wrong side of the few nutters left running the country.

Should it be read?
It is not one of those books that jumps out at you and comes with glowing reviews all over the dust jacket but it does deserve a read if you are interested in Russian literature. Along with other accounts of the communist years this is one of the few so far that I have read that is set against the background of the Brezhnev era and it is different from other novels as a result. There is no civil war, no Stalin and no second world war. But there is a weary awareness about the lies and the terror that has gone before and the awful acceptance that to get on you still have to kowtow to that system.

Summary
Junior researcher with beard and a free mind – full of historical communist figures – gets caught up in his own fantasy and is crushed by the state leaving you to wonder just who is mad

Version read – Paladin paperback

book of books – The Madhouse


Most of the great works of Russian literature are either in the 19th century or from a select band of writers that have made a reputation in the West from the 20th century. But if you go looking there are some real gems to be found from writers that used their talent to highlight the madness of the Soviet system and Alexander Zinoviev is among those.

It is not too difficult to find works that are written during the years of the Stalin purges but this is set against the era of Brezhnev when things were in the odd state of being mocked but still having teeth.

The title refers to the nickname for the institution where the main character works but it is of course a play on the entire country and the communist system.

Plot summary
The story evolves around a junior research fellow (JRF) in an academic institute who half heartedly plans becoming a party member and moving up to the next step on the ladder. One of JRF’s jobs is to liaise with the mentally ill who keep trying to send in treatises to the academy and as a result he meets someone he refers to as ‘the terrorist’ and along with a collection of people in his head – Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the KGB leaders Iron Felix and Beria – he spends most of his time living in a fantasy world. When he is not participating or watching those mock the system, spending time with women or arguing with the voices in his head he has to live in a small apartment with neighbours only too happy to denounce him. The result of that is that the KGB pick up on his trial and are determined to nail him for planning political assassinations. His friends and colleagues are interviewed and the case against him deepens. He is sent to a rest home and when he returns at a critical stage in his career the men in the trench coats come for him and take him away.

Is it well written?
It is sometimes difficult to work out just what is happening because you sense there is an assumption that you will be familiar with the machinations of the soviet state. But what does become clear through the use of the historical voices in JRF’s head is that the system was built on madness, thrived on it and even when it is falling apart continues to function like a drunk lunatic. The sense of unreality that must have always existed but was something to be feared in Stalin’s time is there but with a leader everyone jokes about and a West everyone is jealous of it seems acceptable to attack the system. But as JRF shows you can still be hurt and lose your career and your lodgings if you get on the wrong side of the few nutters left running the country.

Should it be read?
It is not one of those books that jumps out at you and comes with glowing reviews all over the dust jacket but it does deserve a read if you are interested in Russian literature. Along with other accounts of the communist years this is one of the few so far that I have read that is set against the background of the Brezhnev era and it is different from other novels as a result. There is no civil war, no Stalin and no second world war. But there is a weary awareness about the lies and the terror that has gone before and the awful acceptance that to get on you still have to kowtow to that system.

Summary
Junior researcher with beard and a free mind – full of historical communist figures – gets caught up in his own fantasy and is crushed by the state leaving you to wonder just who is mad

Version read – Paladin paperback

The Madhouse – post IX

This is all going to be the wrong way round today because I am hoping to read some of Around the World… later tonight but in the meantime my lunchtime read is the final part of The Madhouse. Finally it seems to make sense and although you sense that some of the cuts here did impact the novel’s cohesion the general point – freedom of thought is not going to be tolerated – does come across in the end.

Bullet points between pages 452 – 501

* The time at the rest home comes to an end and JRF heads back to Moscow not really having made any friends but certainly having found more evidence if it was needed of a deep cynicism about the system

* Before he leave he has an encounter with the former head of the academy who calls for his papers that JRF had been working on and then burns them and shortly afterwards dies but starts to appear in dreams to JRF telling him that he had denounced plenty of other people to save his own skin

* Back in Moscow and JRF senses something is wrong because no one is happy to see him and things start to get bleaker with the May Day parades coming up and the KGB vowing to get any potential troublemakers off the streets

* After visiting his parents JRF realises that he is not wanted and starts to feel vulnerable and heads back and sure enough is called to the directors office and escorted off the premises by two men

* The irony is that he had just begun to contemplate conforming to the system and was ultimately punished for the imaginary world of his dreams and his thoughts

A full review will follow shortly…

The Madhouse – post IX

This is all going to be the wrong way round today because I am hoping to read some of Around the World… later tonight but in the meantime my lunchtime read is the final part of The Madhouse. Finally it seems to make sense and although you sense that some of the cuts here did impact the novel’s cohesion the general point – freedom of thought is not going to be tolerated – does come across in the end.

Bullet points between pages 452 – 501

* The time at the rest home comes to an end and JRF heads back to Moscow not really having made any friends but certainly having found more evidence if it was needed of a deep cynicism about the system

* Before he leave he has an encounter with the former head of the academy who calls for his papers that JRF had been working on and then burns them and shortly afterwards dies but starts to appear in dreams to JRF telling him that he had denounced plenty of other people to save his own skin

* Back in Moscow and JRF senses something is wrong because no one is happy to see him and things start to get bleaker with the May Day parades coming up and the KGB vowing to get any potential troublemakers off the streets

* After visiting his parents JRF realises that he is not wanted and starts to feel vulnerable and heads back and sure enough is called to the directors office and escorted off the premises by two men

* The irony is that he had just begun to contemplate conforming to the system and was ultimately punished for the imaginary world of his dreams and his thoughts

A full review will follow shortly…

The Madhouse – post VIII

An ex boss of mine once made the comment when we were particularly under worked that we would find the work we had would fill the time. The same principle works with The Madhouse with it almost being at the end but enough reading has been left to fill the commute for tomorrow.

As a result the treacle pace continues but it cannot do for much longer because the pages are running out. The reason it’s so slow going is not so much because of the book, which is slightly repetitive in labouring the point, but it’s more to do with tiredness and failing to keep the eyes open on the way home from work.

Bullet points between pages 408 – 452

* There are two stories running in parallel with Stalin killing Lenin and taking the reigns of power in such a away all of those who felt they were close to Lenin and part of the leadership are isolated and weak compared to Stalin

* The way the story is told it is clear that n* ot only did Lenin not rate Stalin but he could hardly remember who he was and putting the structure of the party in his hands was more of a way of getting rid of him rather than building him up

* But Stalin is ruthless and believes that the way revolutions are won is not through speeches and slogans but through action, most of which is brutal

* Back at the rest home JRF and the rest are told to be on their best behaviour as a VIP arrives who spends most of his trip drunk and unable to speak or stand but the result of him appearing is that the food improves

* The VIP manages to get through the weekend unscathed meanwhile the party supporters start to write denunciations of colleagues they don’t approve of and the jokes about communism and Brezhnev continue

Final chunk tomorrow…

The Madhouse – post VIII

An ex boss of mine once made the comment when we were particularly under worked that we would find the work we had would fill the time. The same principle works with The Madhouse with it almost being at the end but enough reading has been left to fill the commute for tomorrow.

As a result the treacle pace continues but it cannot do for much longer because the pages are running out. The reason it’s so slow going is not so much because of the book, which is slightly repetitive in labouring the point, but it’s more to do with tiredness and failing to keep the eyes open on the way home from work.

Bullet points between pages 408 – 452

* There are two stories running in parallel with Stalin killing Lenin and taking the reigns of power in such a away all of those who felt they were close to Lenin and part of the leadership are isolated and weak compared to Stalin

* The way the story is told it is clear that n* ot only did Lenin not rate Stalin but he could hardly remember who he was and putting the structure of the party in his hands was more of a way of getting rid of him rather than building him up

* But Stalin is ruthless and believes that the way revolutions are won is not through speeches and slogans but through action, most of which is brutal

* Back at the rest home JRF and the rest are told to be on their best behaviour as a VIP arrives who spends most of his trip drunk and unable to speak or stand but the result of him appearing is that the food improves

* The VIP manages to get through the weekend unscathed meanwhile the party supporters start to write denunciations of colleagues they don’t approve of and the jokes about communism and Brezhnev continue

Final chunk tomorrow…