Category Archives: Books
President of PEN Ukraine, Andrey Kurkov author of 19 novels and 20 movie and TV scripts is perhaps the best-known Ukrainian writer outside his own country. He is the author of the best-selling Death and the Peguin. Recently, I heard him speak at the PEN AMERICA World Voices Festival. (see part 1)
When Kurkov was 2-years old, Kurkov’s family moved to Kyiv where he lived and grew up under the USSR communist party during the time of the Cold War. That was a time of the Berlin Wall with Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev after Stalin died. Unbelievably, oppressed, propagandized, impoverished Russians wept to see Stalin go (according to Kurkov). Globally, it was a tense time of escalation of nuclear weapons, of shelter drills in U.S. classrooms, of the McCarthy debacle exploited by a sick alcoholic senator and his wicked puppet lawyer, of the erection of the Berlin Wall dividing the city of Berlin into East and West, of the Cuban missile crisis, and of improvident nuclear proliferation. Then thankfully, the iron curtain melted and tensions relaxed with Glasnost during the influence of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev.
Glasnost reflected a commitment of the Mikhail Gorbachev administration, allowing Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and potential solutions. Gorbachev allowed a process of democratization that eventually destabilized Communist control and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union along with other factors, one of them the Chernobyl disaster. In 1986 Kyiv, USSR was impacted, as the nuclear power plant is located in the northern Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, 90 kilometres north of Kyiv. The Kremlin’s lies about the danger to the populace finally were revealed as an embarrassment and failure of the technologically backward USSR. Over the years since Stalin died, the USSR relied more on its propaganda to keep it up with the West then technological advancement a situation that persists today. Oppression of the populace is extremely costly, when an open system curtailing corruption and rewarding research, development and progress is invariably prosperity producing to the culture and society.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the handwriting was on the crumbling wall that East Germans and Europeans took chunks of as souvenirs. One imagines that Kurkov and Ukrainians were as thrilled as Vladimir Putin was devastated, something Putin has admitted to and to which can be attributed his fury at failing to do the impossible, bring back a new Russian regime with his futile war against the democracy loving Ukraine.
When Gorbachev won the Novel Peace Prize in 1990 for his great leadership in bringing an end to the Cold War and signaling Russia would agree to peace, the USSR, like Humpty Dumpty fell. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent country on 24 August 1991 and proclaimed it would no longer follow the laws of USSR and would only follow the laws of Ukraine SSR. At that point in time, Kurkov was 31-years old and free to write as he pleased. Ukraine became “the space of my personal freedom.” Subsequently, he has worked as a writer for 30 years “without censorship, without political control, without pressure.”
To that end, he has embraced his freedom and his responsibility to speak out about Putin and Putin’s aggressor machinations in Ukraine. The Ukrainians since Euromaiden have rejected Putin’s puppets and rejected his hope to resurrect a Putin regime of which he expects Ukraine will become Russian, adhering to Ukrainian cultural and historical extinction.
Putin’s War in Ukraine is unfathomable without viewing it as a last push toward effecting a regime change by his own mandates, not God’s. Putin is not a religious man; he is a despotic hypocrite who worships himself. Review his behavior and his co-optation of the Russian Orthodox Church, appointing former KGB Patriarch Krill. Another Putin puppet, Krill gave a twenty minute justification for Putin’s War (and atrocities) to Pope Francis who would have none of it. Pope Francis called out Patriarch Krill and told him not to be “Putin’s altar boy.” With few exceptions clerics have called out Patriarch Krill and Putin. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Istanbul (Constantinople) Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has also called out Krill and Putin.
Kurkov has been moved to write and give interviews about Putin’s War, and he has stated that because circumstances are so incredible, he can only bring himself to write non fiction. His latest work that he wrote before February 24, 2022, the date of infamy in the lives of Ukrainians, is a novel. Grey Bees takes place in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine which contained a “grey zone” a no man’s land between Russian backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers where a few civilians lived their lives without electricity, water, etc. The circumstances returned these individuals back to uncivilized times before technology and industrialization created the rat wheel everyone wanted to jump off. In Kurkov’s novel, the grey zone is without rat wheels, a limbo of existence that has disappeared since Putin’s War and the shelling of cities in Ukraine’s South and East and the declarations of these regions to be separate Republics from Ukraine supported by Putin.
In the rest of the country Ukrainians are fighting for every patch of their soil until they are free. This is what Kurkov writes about to inform the West and encourage Ukrainians that they will win.
Selected to give a speech as this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, Kurkov afterward engaged in a Q and A with Soviet-born American writer Gary Shteyngart. Both in the speech and during the Q and A, Kurkov’s humor came to the fore. He spoke with authenticity about the truth, and Ukrainians. He said that the truth just is. What we attribute to it, whether it be inconvenient or ugly is ascribed by the individual viewing what is.
Execution style killings in Bucha? Mass graves? Rapes, the bodies of burned women? These are the effects of Putin’s “special operations,” his euphemism for war. To Ukrainians and the West and NATO countries these constitute war crimes. But for Putin to claim it never happened, that bodies are not in mass graves, nor women raped and their bodies burned? That is not truth. Those are lies of omission. One asks, “Why lie?” The answer is political. Like Donald Trump Putin refuses to be associated with the guilt or fear of his actions. He is not accountable. Lies which are cover ups exist so the audience, the Russian people, do not see what is. Indeed, Putin fears if they do see what is, they will demand he be ousted. To fear it in Putin’s mind makes it so, and thus, making it so, he has blanked out independent news stations, TV channels except all the news that’s “fit to hear” which is state media lies; that is Putin’s truth. None of the brutality is happening.
To counteract this narrative of his war’s none existence and reframing the war atrocities so he will not be held accountable, everything Ukrainians and the West see and hear about this war is chronicled. The truth is recorded. What is, must be shown, discussed, revealed as it is. Ukrainians are documenting the war crimes as they find them. They are telling the truth. During his speech/lecture, Kurkov spoke about the Ukrainian will
“Ukrainians are determined to win,” Kurkov said, “to defend the sovereign right to life in their own free and democratic country. Ukrainians in this war are united not only by a common enemy, but also by a common European vision of the future of their state. Ukraine doesn’t really have a choice. It will either win and remain an independent state, or, as President Putin wants, become part of the new Soviet Union or the new Russian empire.
Familiar with Arthur Miller’s work, Kurkov referred to the American playwright’s defense of free speech, free expression and the freedom to write when Miller served as president of PEN America from 1965 to 1969 and through his life.
“Arthur Miller has not been with us for 17 years, but his voice continues to resound in the world and continues to turn the thoughts of hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions of people back to the search for truth and justice. Because truth and justice cannot be separated. They are interconnected. A person who experiences the sharp pain of injustice, in whatever way, can become a champion of truth. Such a person is usually ready to fight for this truth and, if necessary, to die for it.”
Kurkov spoke the names of 20 journalists including those of US news organizations, who have been killed since Putin’s War. According to Kurkov: “Journalism remains one of the most dangerous professions, and during the war, it becomes even more dangerous. The inscription ‘press’ on a bulletproof vest or helmet is to the Russian military, like a red rag to bull.”
He also paid tribute to the Ukrainian citizen journalists who are being persecuted and imprisoned in Crimea and Russia, with criminal cases fabricated against them. And Kurkov spoke of the distinction between the Russians and Ukrainians.
“Ukrainians do not accept diktats or restrictions on their rights, especially the right to freedom of speech or freedom of religion. For Ukrainians, freedom has always been more important than money, more important than living standards, more important than stability. In fact, there has never been stability in Ukraine precisely because freedom was a priority. Unlike the Russians, for whom it seems, stability is more important than freedom and all individual freedoms and rights.”
Kurkov’s message to writers in the US, is that they must chronicle the truth. Kurkov, in measuring Ukrainian journalist’s intent, and comparing it to ours suggests the imperative is to get as much of the truth down as possible.
“Ukrainian writers, regardless of the language they write in, will never give up the freedom to write what they think and what they consider important. Ukrainians, writers or non- writers, cannot and will not learn to live without freedom. Without the freedoms that are included in the mandatory and inviolable ‘list’ of human rights.”
MENTORING KURKOV AS JOURNALISTS IN THE US
We can learn from Kurkov’s mentoring which cuts through the bullshit and runs to the heart of ideals of democracy. These ideals are being threatened by a party indulgently accepting fabrications because it garners them power and money. The MAGA party have been elected to positions in a democratic government. but to “tickle” the ears of the extremist right wing criminal supporters, they decry those very positions in an act of irrationality. To state that Biden lost and then not resign in protest is an example of the craven hypocrisy and untruth of QAnon Republicans like Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy and many in the Republican conference. If Biden is not president, then how can they be a part of a government that is a fraud? They can and will because they benefit from it by mouthing words (Biden lost) they don’t believe, and collecting their salaries and donations and kickbacks to run again and grift the American people some more.
If they really believe Biden lost and Trump won, en masse, they would have resigned and have been protesting ever since January 6, 2020, like Ukrainians did in the Euromaidan (See the film Winter on Fire). But these QAnon terrorists are happy to talk the talk and run away like cowards from the legitimate and authentic behaviors which would signal to the American people that fraud was committed. They can’t, they won’t. Instead, they will probably end up in jail or censured for lying on their oath of office, participating in the January 6th insurrection and not willingly resigning in protest or sacrificing their careers to alert the American people of the fraud. They won’t because they won’t sacrifice anything for the American people. Biden won; they know it and yet they complain like babies so they can collect their dark money donations and kickbacks and work to undermine democracy which is the mission of their new oath to communism, oppression, Putin/Trump and other foreign adversaries, who pay them to overthrow democracy in the US.
Has any QAnon Republican official resigned in protest with the courage of their convictions protesting the 2020 election? Look at the actions of the two prosecutors in the NY DA Alvin Bragg’s office, well reputed and respected individuals (Careynne, Mark Pomerantz). They investigated Donald Trump and they urged Bragg to indict Trump before the grand jury’s session expired because there was enough evidence to INDICT TRUMP FOR FRAUD and other financial crimes. (see this site) Bragg sat on the fence. They resigned, throwing away their careers. Why would anyone throw away their career because they simply disagreed with their boss?
Their career toss indicates the extent of the moral imperative involved as servants of the people to identify and whistle blow corruption is going on, Bragg’s corruption. In effect they would rather be employed elsewhere than work under a weak/corrupt DA. In his resignation letter, Pomerantz called Bragg’s decision “misguided and completely contrary to the public interest. Since then, Bragg has lied, saying the case was ongoing. But it has quietly been made to go away, so we hear nothing about it.
If the New York Post was up to its true mettle, it would do an investigation of this. The public welcomes investigative journalism. Oh, you say it’s an ultra right wing Putin-style communist Murdock paper that supports, lies for, and protects Trump? Then forget any investigative journalism, except into Hillary’s emails…they are still looking for cannibalism and her blood sucking or Cuomo’s sex crimes talked about by liars and Republican/Democratic shills. OK, then why isn’t the New York Times, or WaPo, or any other paper investigating, or Letitia James? Or the Attorney for the Southern District of New York? This is corruption in plain site; two prosecutors resigned in protest. This cannot be ignored. Bragg must be investigated if the case against Trump went away like pundits have suggested. Who is his boss? If it were Governor Andrew Cuomo, there would be an investigation. With the current governor. Forget it. She is busy giving money and jobs to her upstate constituency and preparing to run for governor.
Thus, the QAnon Republicans stay in their jobs, lie on their oaths and serve not the American people, but Donald Trump. So does Alvin Bragg, so does Hochel, so does the “FREE PRESS.” All are slaves to Trump, pretending they are uninvolved. QAnon Republicans refused to impeach traitorous Trump for leading an insurrection as president because like Putin, he can’t brook the truth. As a president who was supposed to uphold the constitution and people’s rights he swamped those rights to take them all for himself. Destroying votes by wiping out Biden’s win and declaring himself winner, vitiates the majority of the voters. For him it is an inconvenient truth that over 60% despise him and voted for Biden in a landslide and popular vote of nearly 8 million.
Currently, though the populace are not enamored of Joe Biden, they prefer Biden’s leadership to Trump’s negligent, botch job with COVID, his self-serving golf trips spending more than 130 million of taxpayer money, his abusing the treasury corruptly with giving jobs to friends and contracts to donors of his coffers, his lack of decency, his uplifting white supremacists as very fine people and his order of the military to tear gas and rubber bullet peaceful protestors at Lafayette Square after hiding in the basement for fear of his life hearing there was a BLM protest at Lafayette Square. With Trump comes communist oppressor and Stalinist channeling Putin, failure and incompetence.
Trump’s attempt to disenfranchise the landsliding votes of the majority of Biden voters is an act of a treason, perhaps if the DOJ investigates the evidence provided to it by the January 6th commission. In Russia, disenfranchising the Russian people? That is normal behavior for their Stalinist communist despot Putin. It is easy for him to put in puppet candidates, remove dangerous candidates like Alexi Navalny and put in himself and declare himself a winner in a sham election or leader of Russia until 2036. For Rudy Guiliani to suggest to Trump, to just declare that he won and persist until they terrorize the voting public or continually demanding Georgia Secretary of State find the 11,000 votes and give them to him to win Georgia’s electoral votes? Well, that is an act of Putin styling Stalinist communism and terrorism. To oppose Trump? Off to jail which he threatens if Republicans WIN THE HOUSE. And for lackeys to pile on and persist in the lie when they all know it is a lie? That is another act of Putin styled communism and Stalin’s terrorism.
What Stalin and Putin say is truth, is truth, despite its being a lie. The same oppression goes for Trump. Trump is continuing with this communist styled oppression by telling “his” candidate (Oz supports Trump’s lies) Memet Oz who is running in a tight race for Republican governor just to declare that he has won. Declare now, count the votes later, or make them disappear. This is what Trump did with the 2020 election. Before the mail ballots were counted, he declared himself victor. We were all supposed to go home, though the mail in ballots had not been counted. This is communism. This is Putinism. This is Stalinism.
It has been the rule of communists (for a while the oligarchs, which are now being sanctioned) to be guaranteed their mansions and high living lifestyles. Meanwhile, the Russian people barely scraped out an existence; the sharing was all on the side of the impoverished. The members of the communist party lived with all the technological advantages of the west that they could purchase from the West. They shared nothing. Hypocrites, self-serving, liars. The average poor person in the US has more than the middle class Russian. I know. I have spoken to individuals who came from Russia after the USSR crumbled. The government provided housing and they could get food, but little else. It is why the Russian soldiers are “acting crazy” stealing Ukrainian toilets, washing machines, etc. Meanwhile, when those living in the former USSR came to NYC, they had to hustle. They weren’t used to it.
Under Putin’s direction, declaring he won, though he hadn’t, Trump expected his lackeys to wipe out Biden’s landslide victory, rename and reframe it, and cover it up by any means necessary. In other words, he expects them to do as he says just like Putin and Stalin communism expects of their lackeys. In a conspiracy Trump fomented an insurrection with members of congress like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green, Mark Meadows, his family, willing outsiders like Ali Alexander, Steve Bannon, Rudy Guiliani and Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, supporter Clarence Thomas, Elise Stefanik of New York and Doug Mastriano to name a few. Trump watched TV with happiness as the KKK and white supremacists and militia men defecated, broke windows, stole beat up and gassed Capitol police and swarmed throughout the building ranging to “hang Mike Pence” and “get” Nancy Pelosi. To say they wrecked the Capitol is an understatement. Capitol police, members of Congress and their aides have PTSD to this day.
In Kurkov’s Ukraine, in Zelensky’s Ukraine, such actions by a president of a democracy are monstrous, because they are not freedom-loving. To proclaim such lies as truth is criminal, is unjust, is communist. Such lies by one occupying the highest position in government run against the oath of office the president is supposed to uphold along with the constitution. Trump’s lies become NEWSPEAK (out of George Orwell’s novel 1984 (which is about Big Brother COMMUNISM AND OPPRESSION). Newspeak is controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary designed to limit the individual’s ability to think and articulate “subversive” anti-Trump thoughts. All of the Hillary cannibal memes in the smear campaign were example of Newspeak. Other examples of Newspeak chanted often by Trump, his son Don Jr., Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr. are “lock her up,” “we’re building the wall,” etc.
Bannon made a lot of money on the “building the wall” NEWSPEAK meme. There was a collection for the wall and MAGAS were duped by their own xenophobia giving hundreds of dollars as Bannon took the money and used it for his luxuries. Such is the Putin/Stalinist/Trumpist communist grift; communist fraud. Stalin proclaimed abstemiousness and lived in an incredible mansion. Putin’s is even more luxurious and there are many more of them that dot Russia. Bannon a proclaimed Leninist is a joke. He is a thief, a liar, a criminal who got caught and belongs in jail, but crooked, criminal Trump pardoned him. Another communist tactic that Putin uses all the time. Pardon criminals, jail protestors or innocents, and kill journalists. Communism. It is what it is. We see what it is. We can’t lie about it. The QAnon party has become the party of Putinist/Stalinist/Trumpist communism.
To not record this truth, to run from this truth as Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and the QAnon communist party do is a violation of their constitutional oaths. They are acting like Stalinist/Putin communists. They will not resign because they have lost their freedom to say “no” to Donald Trump. So they sit, in a grey zone as Trump’s slaves. They can’t serve two masters, be his slaves and be servants of the citizens in a leadership position anywhere in our government. So they are his slaves and serve him and they get paid their salaries by the American people for their treason, unjustly and unethically. They should have their salaries removed for serving a man who is out of office and his own unofficial head of the party of Putin and himself, the head of the QAnon Communist, anti-democracy party of terrorists and racists.
Chained to Trump/Putin and like-minded corporates, it is a truth that these QAnon communist party members can’t govern. To expect them to govern, compromise, or lead is preposterous. They must be removed by the DOJ. The line must be drawn. And Trump for leading others to overthrow an election must go to jail. It is unprecedented, but so was the insurrection by a president who refused to agree to a peaceful transfer of power. He claimed he won and fired Chris Krebs (Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for the US Department of Homeland Security) for saying it was the most secure election in the history of the nation. Trump FIRED HIM. Just like communistic Stalin or Putin would do.
Krebs and Barr said there was no fraud committed. Barr got fired too. Krebs is a hero for chronicling the truth. Trump and his lackeys committed a monstrous, anti-democracy, anti-patriotic fraud. If I wanted Putin styled communism where there are no freedoms of speech, assembly, press or the right for every citizen to have the vote fairly counted as Krebs and Barr said occurred, I would ask to go and live in Russia or North Korea or China where my vote as a citizen means nothing. But to have Donald Trump declare my vote is nothing because he is a MAGALOMANIACAL LOSER? And he can’t bear the truth? I’m with Kurkov and the Ukrainian people.
I repeat what Kurkov said during the lecture, “Ukrainians, writers or non- writers, cannot and will not learn to live without freedom. Without the freedoms that are included in the mandatory and inviolable ‘list’ of human rights.” Our constitution upholds human rights. But under QAnon communistic Putin styled oppression and terrorism that Trump has insinuated with his enabling of white supremacists, our constitution is threatened, our human rights are threatened. And I call on the old Republican party to say NO to this monstrous bullying that is communistic, Putin-styled communistic and oppressive under Trump. Say NO to Trump. Say it loud so that the citizens of this nation can hear it from coast to coast. There is no place for communism, anti-democracy, anti-constitution white supremacist domestic terrorism in the US. No MAGALOMANIAC who declares he runs his own elections should be anywhere near any government position. He does not deserve one nickel from US citizens. Stop the GQP grift!
All of the “Republican” conference must say no. They must state why they stand for freedom. They must loudly oppose the NEWSPEAK LIES of Doug Mastriano and others like Elise Stefanik who say they are “patriots” and say they “stand” on the constitution, but support the insurrection and the overthrow of the constitution. Anti-democracy un patriots, they trample the constitution; that’s how they “stand” on it.
Both Stefanik and Mastriano and the others who proclaim they know more than Chris Krebs and William Barr are monstrous liars out of Stalinist communism;. Indeed, the 14th amendment forbids them holding office. The constitution does not allow them to overthrow an election and run for a government position. They are communists, then; they use NEWSPEAK to lie on the constitution and dupe citizens. Forbidden to run, as Hochal should remove Stefanik. Anyone in the QAnon party who supports such communistic Putin tactics must be called down by their own party, as liars and a Trump/Putin communist oppressors of freedoms written in the constitution. They all are anti-democracy. That means they are Putin styled oppressors. How many times have I repeated this?
Daily, QAnon Trump/Putin terrorist communist compromats live untruths, act untruths, speak untruths and violate the human rights of the citizens to be spoken to truthfully. They make citizens their whipping posts out of resentment. Instead of working with Democrats to benefit all Americans, like Stalinists Putin/Trump they benefit themselves. Consider dark money Citizens United donor dollars and dark money kickbacks. How do these politicians arrive in Washington from the middle class and end up with fat wallets and bank accounts? Mitch McConnell isn’t just wealthy because he married wealth.
The QAnon communists consider no-Trumpers to be combatants, and fight against them. Trump is against all who stood against him on January 6th. He is planning revenge against anyone who would manifest, investigate and speak out that he is a loser and always was a loser of 2020 and most probably without Putin’s illegal help in 2016, a loser against Hillary Clinton. In both elections he was unable to win the popular vote. The majority of citizens are against him because they recognize a criminal, liar and thug is not a good leader.
Of course, Cambridge Analytica owner Robert Mercer and Bannon and Jared Kushner had calculated what was needed to win the electoral college in 2016. Trump won that by a small number of votes in the swing states. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won by the largest margin of voters in the popular vote ever in a presidential election at that time. Considering that Putin hated her and prevented her win and contributed greatly in the smear campaign against her, that she even got the popular vote is to her credit and not spoken about enough in the white male dominated and owned media.
Read up on the 2016 election and watch the film The Great Hack. Trump had to rely on Robert Mercer who wanted to make the government vitiate his 7.5 billion tax bill so he, through his company Cambridge Analytica with the help of Steve Bannon, effected a conspiracy to elect Trump. They, with FB data, Wiki leak emails of Hillary Clinton’s recipes spun into Hillary’s eating children and sucking their blood (taken from the Stalin effected starvation of Ukrainians in the Holodomor in 1932-33), millions of Putin bots of Russian Military Intel, Putin compromised Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and other targeted social media sites, were able to clamp more votes in swing states to gain the electoral college. However, the amount to effect the electoral college win is negligible. If Jill Stein did not run, Hillary would have won. Check out the photos of Jill Stein sitting at the same table as Putin and Michael Flynn at the RT Gala.
Considering that all the machinations and money the Trump campaign took (dark money is not recorded) would run a small country, Hillary winning the popular vote is a testament to her mission and the respect the majority of citizens had for her. If any election was stolen, it wasn’t the election of 2020. Putin and American conspirators and Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica, et. al. stole the 2016 election from Hillary. Trump lied, helped by a Putin’s Russian military intel, Mercer/Bannon and an incredibly dirty communistic-lying, NEWSPEAK smear campaign stoked by white supremacist terrorists, MAGAS and bots. These un- American, un-patriotic “Americans” trampled the majority of the 2016 citizen voters and the constitution with a foreign adversary, endangering our national security. (They still try to but it is near impossible with Putin’s war.)
Kurkov and the Ukrainians know the power of saying “I am free.” Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and the rest of the communistic Republicans do not. In this article I hold the QAnon communistic white supremacist Republican Party to account: Stop being slaves to Trump and Trumpers. Say “no” to Donald Trump and his obeisance to Putin and white supremacist domestic terrorists. Be brave like the Ukrainians. Slava Ukraini! Slava freedom from communistic oppression Trump/Putin style.
Impressions Before and After Ukrainian Best Selling Author Andrey Kurkov’s Speech at PEN World Voices Festival (Part I)
When I was in London and Oxford, UK in 2019, I stopped in a bookstore, my favorite haunt as a writer, and saw on a display table Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. I was completely unfamiliar with his work. I don’t know why I picked up the book. But in a bookshop’s interesting, curious world of uncertainty and adventure, something aligned. Perhaps because I was close friends with a Ukrainian women years ago when I lived in upstate New York and ruefully allowed time and distance to separate us. In recent years with Putin’s invasion of Crimea, that association often comes to my remembrance, so I bought it, flew with it across the Pond and forgot about it swept up in NYC activities and my writing career, such as it is.
The same curious uncertainty happened to me when I picked up C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters at the NYU bookstore when I was going for my Ph.D. Unfamiliar with the author, it was an association with his last name that prompted me to pick up the slim volume and read it, laughing aloud, then subsequently devouring everything else Lewis had written. (I will probably do the same with Kurkov after hearing him speak at the World Voices Festival). For me bookstore display tables are all about serendipity and whimsy picking up a book, briefly perusing its back cover, then taking it or putting it back.
Diverted from reviewing plays three or four nights a week when the pandemic shut down Broadway, I watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on my computer (I am not a TV watcher), then stumbled upon my forgotten copy of Death and the Penguin while looking for something else. I read it, and as with The Screwtape Letters, I found myself laughing out loud. Kurkov’s sensibility dovetailed with mine; his irony, inherent black humor and the existential plight of Viktor, the protagonist and penguin Misha his alter ego or avatar that Viktor takes in from the Kyiv Zoo evoked a mixture of emotions. In the novel the zoo gave away its animals to those who could afford to care for them.
Perhaps there is an alignment if we consider what was done with the zoo animals in the besieged northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, as officials attempt to evacuate large predators from the facility and are forced to put down others. Unfamiliar with what happened to facilities like zoos, right after the USSR collapsed, perhaps this was generally done, giving the animals homes. The US rejoiced at the USSR collapse; many did not; it was a catastrophe for those impacted. And what to do with the animals? The metaphor is incredible. Now, with Putin’s war, what to do with the animals in the zoo, especially the large predators? The Russians don’t even want the bodies of their dead soldiers. The Ukrainians are caring for them and for the big cats. There is something to be said for this truth. I’m not sure if it is ugly. It just is.
Though Death and the Penguin takes place in post Soviet Ukraine, in the 1990s, there is always the lurking darkness of the ethos of what “post-Soviet” means, the chaos, the vying for power between factions, criminals and thugs. My Ukrainian neighbor told me the moment the Iron Curtain was down he picked up his family and left. The Russian communists were hovering as were those schooled in thuggery from the KGB oppression units. Displaced, they were looking for a new way to employ their skills. Any moment they might pop up en masse in the future and pull their shenanigans. Turns out my friend was prescient; but he knows the history of Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine from Ivan the Terrible to Stalin.
A former member of PEN AMERICA whose membership lapsed, I still receive information. On Facebook I saw the advertisement for PEN America’s World Voices Festival at NYU, my old Ph.D. stomping grounds. The headline piqued my interest: Ukrainian Novelist Delivers Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at PEN World Voices Festival. The stars aligned; I had to attend.
I wanted to hear Kurkov’s comments about Putin’s genocide of Ukrainians and his war crimes. Who doesn’t admire President Zelensky’s heroism in defense of his country, and his standing up to Donald Trump’s blackmail (javelins for dirt on Hunter Biden)? These are events none of us in the US should ever forget. Nor can we forget the hideous impact of Putin’s interference in the 2016 election and installing his US puppet which deceased Representative John Lewis believed was a Putin/Republican/Cambridge Analytica conspiracy.
Since April of 2020 as the pandemic raged, I have asserted in articles (on my The Fat and the Skinny blog) that Putin duped the US into making deals while he was dreaming of his new world order, a Stalinistic communistic empire (Russians have mentioned that communism is dead…yeah, well maybe not) with new gulag jails filled with journalists, protestors, freedom fighters, Alexei Navalny and others like him. Is Communism in Putin’s New Regime designs? Just because the word was “banned” in Russia doesn’t mean it ever left the mind of Putin who Kurkov suggests is so nostalgic for the “good old days” that state TV has even created a Nostalgia channel of old movies, etc. pleasantly reminiscing about the old USSR. Putin is not your kindhearted granddaddy; how Russians negotiate Alexei Navalny, the news blackout, millions of young Russians leaving, leads of Ukraine butchery is mindboggling.
As Kurkov said in his introduction Putin’s War and his truth lies are out of George Orwell. Of course, the puppet presidency of Trump, that no one in the nation was ready for except salivating billionaires, was the same hellish psyops war for the minds of the American people. As Putin does in Russia, Trump did to America. It was out of a surreal GRU playbook. Thankfully, Trump is gone, but Putin is screaming and kicking against the kicks of Biden’s presidency and sanctions. Putin’s attempt to conduct psyops through truth/lies reality to gather communist support for his new regime whether from French loser Marine Le Pen, Hungary’s winner Prime Minister Viktor Orban or other hyper right-wing governments is for truth watchers, a useless endeavor. Regardless of the lies told, the truth is about usurping then consolidating power.
At this point actions speak loudly; justifications are meaningless. Importantly, those who oppose Putin’s criminality and his criminal puppets like Belarus’ Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, the former Ukrainian puppet ousted in the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych, or orange puppet Donald Trump ousted by Democratic President Joe Biden are what matters. If Putin opposes the leader or individual, you can guarantee he/she/they are not backed by his criminal enterprise. Likewise, if individuals oppose Donald Trump’s attempt to run for President in the future, they are not supported by his criminality.
in keeping with my compulsion to understand and publicize Putin’s psyops and serial killer behaviors, I have reviewed plays about Russian journalists, like Putin assassinated writer, whistleblower and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya. Also, I am enamored of those who have the courage to speak out like Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina. I reviewed her in Burning Doors at La Mama (2017). I spoke to Alyokhina before her performance and praised her for her bravery. She looked at me like her courage was “nothing.” I interpreted her attitude to mean, if you are a human being, you stand for human rights against killers and oppressors. Her performance was riveting; she was amazing in 2017 and is even more amazing in 2022. She escaped from Russia, Friday May 13th, the same day that Andrey Kurkov delivered the lecture at NYU.
Alyokhina had been jailed in Russia six more times since last summer. They put her in for 15 days for truth lies, like Alexei Navalney’s made-up charges. The fabricated “crimes” get them off the streets and shut them up. That messages sneak out from prison is a testament to the fact that there are many who oppose Putin’s tactics, but can only stand against them surreptitiously.
Alyokhina realized the danger she was in when authorities announced that her house arrest would be converted to 21 days in a penal colony (gulag). She left disguised in a food delivery outfit to escape the “woman hunt,” and nearly didn’t make it out. She is 33 years old; she was 22 when Pussy Riot was formed as an anti-Putin protest band. She’s been at this for 11 years and will continue her activism from outside Russia, something devoutly to be appreciated by Putin who has blacked out all media, theater, anything that is a protest, as he vitiates the Russian constitution by dissolving it into tyranny and despotism.
Like Alyokhina, many journalists/activists (including an Independent news organization I covered, Rain) have been forced to flee Russia and continue their news activities from neighboring countries. Putin imposed a 15 year jail sentence for those speaking about the war in Ukraine which he lies about as a “special operation.” He doesn’t want to disturb the remaining passive Russian people into activism against the horror that has been snuffed out in Russian media about the butchery, shelling, bombing, razing of buildings, rapes, murders of innocent civilians: women, children, older men.
Thus, Putin is redefining his “truth” of his war crimes and atrocities. “Special operation” is a euphemism for Ukrainian extinction, cultural eradication, and cleansing. What does war mean for Putin that he truth lies about? Disintegrating Ukrainian’s freedom of choice. Dissolving their sovereignty. After all, they are Russians. So his acts are just examples of Russian brotherly love. Right is left, war is peace, hate is love in the “ministry” (it’s a religion of Putin worship) of Putin’s “newspeak” truth.
“Newspeak” is from George Orwell’s 1984. Its function is to “limit the individual’s ability to think and articulate ‘subversive’ concepts such as personal identity, self-expression and free will. Such concepts are criminalized as “thoughtcrime” since they contradict the prevailing Ingsoc orthodoxy. (English socialism-it should have been Ingcom for English communism).
When you stop someone’s freedom to choose, you are a tyrant; for that there is no justification, unless of course, individuals choose to intentionally or negligently kill you with their plague. Then that’s a consideration for National Security and at the least a charge of manslaughter or negligent homicide.
Interestingly, in his speech Kurkov discussed the curious nature of truth following Arthur Miller’s legacy in his writings standing against injustice and inhumanity to tell the “ugly” truth. With straight-faced irony Kurkov implied truth is without descriptors like ugly or pretty or inconvenient. Stripped away, it is and thus, must be recorded and chronicled. The descriptors are given by the one seeing it; the perspective of the one taking it in. Thus, one can be unemotional seeing or hearing about Russian soldiers’ rape, slicing off tongues, executing civilians, mass graves, burning of bodies, if one is Putin and those genocided are Ukrainians. That is Putin’s pretty truth, but it must be whitewashed, alchemized for the Russian populaces’ consumption, sweetening what is to make it easy to swallow.
I would add that since judgment comes from one’s upbringing and surrounding cultural influences (or brainwashing) in a culture where the ethic and law is “do no harm to others,” and “others” means any race, creed or color, then atrocities warrant censure. In Putin’s truth/lies, soldiers’ atrocities warrant rewards and medals.
Putin’s war and Kurkov’s being shelled the first few days until he left Kyiv, displaced him internally. Peter O’Toole, who was in London around the time of Germany’s bombings during WWII said something to the effect that there’s nothing like being bombed to set your priorities straight. The bombing and war dislocated Kurkov who said during the lecture:
“I could not have imagined a situation in which I would decide not to write a novel. But it has happened. Reality is now scarier, more dramatic than any fictional prose. In this context, novels lose their meaning. Now it is necessary to write only the truth, only non-fiction. All those who can write are witnessing one of the worst crimes of the 21st century. The task of witnesses is to record and preserve the evidence of the crime. Yes, now I am a witness in a future criminal trial. And even if this process takes place later than I would like, my testimony, like the testimony of dozens of other Ukrainian writers and journalists, will be claimed by the judges.”
“Ukrainians are determined to win,” he said, “to defend the sovereign right to life in their own free and democratic country. Ukrainians in this war are united not only by a common enemy, but also by a common European vision of the future of their state. Ukraine doesn’t really have a choice. It will either win and remain an independent state, or, as President Putin wants, become part of the new Soviet Union or the new Russian empire.”
The Russian people simply don’t have to think about it. Putin has whitewashed the truth, prevented recordings of it, news articles, commentary on Social Media, all of it. Russian state media doesn’t televise or podcast discussions or reports about the butchery and bombings of the dust of Mariupol again and again, as remaining Ukrainian soldiers and civilians still defy Putin by staying alive and resisting in various basements and the steel plant.
Russians don’t know this. My Russian neighbor in NYC doesn’t know this or swallows Putin’s sugar: the Nazis are being overrun. Thus, Russians are not upset by the “ugly” truth. It doesn’t hurt them. Is that moral? Well, Putin is protecting himself from their fury and protecting them from unspeakable pain and torment. It’s a “good” thing, until they realize when their sons don’t come home, the greatest betrayal in history has happened to them as they have been consciously or unconsciously, wittingly or unwittingly swept up in Putin’s national criminality.
Kurkov’s lecture should have been packed. It wasn’t. However, in the audience were Ukrainians and Russians familiar with Kurkov’s novels, screenplays and his writings as an intellectual and journalist. Kurkov was enlightening. IN PART 2, I comment on his lecture and quote from it.
In my newly released book of sonnets Light Shifts, there are five featured sections. In ‘God in Nature,’ there are two sonnets about Lotuses, one opening the section, the other closing it. I considered adding pictures, then realized that unless they could be duplicated via Kindle digital (they don’t show well) that the photos would be misrepresented. Photographer Gwen Greenthal’s photos are too lovely to be distorted. When Amazon moves to hard cover and upgrades the technology to include exact facsimiles of photos, I will consider it. To check out Light Shifts, go to my books page: https://caroleditostibooks.com/
The fragrance fragile, hints of frankincense.
The buds so creamy, shaded tapering pinks.
The petals seek the sun in recompense.
From watery darkness muddy roots did drink.
Enfolded in the torpid dank and slime
With faith that soon its glorious day will come,
It waits in dormancy then slowly climbs,
In skyward grace to bask in citrine sun.
How many of your kind just stayed below,
Devoid of spark to seek the spiritual light?
How many not ignited by God’s flow
Of love, instead did die in wilted blight?
A miracle each risen Lotus bloom,
A wealth of glorious life born in the gloom.
Lotuses are represented in the literature of most cultures in the world. Their beauty and transience (two-day blooms) retain philosophical symbolism associated with purity, fertility, compassion, transformation, and spiritual enlightenment. Its scientific name is Nelumbo nucifera. It is referred to as Sacred lotus and Indian lotus. Sacred lotus has long been used as a food source and ingredient for traditional herbal remedies. Plant parts contain neuroprotective agents that interact with specific targets to inhibit Alzheimer’s disease (AD).