It’s a hundred years since the October Revolution. What was it really like at the time, when nobody knew how it would end? Was all the violence worth it? Was a new dawn really breaking? This hugely varied collection of poems and prose pieces presents all sorts of angles, from the apocalyptic to the zealous, queer and straight, Bolshevik and Tsarist loyalist.
The greats are out in force, including women I’ve read to mark this anniversary year – Anna Akhmatova, Teffi, and Marina Tsvetaeva – and men I’d never quite got round to reading till now – Blok, Mandelstam, and Mayakovsky. Some are aware of the grandeur of this moment that changed the course of history, as in Kuzmin’s sweeping poem, translated by Dralyuk:
Some are laugh-out-loud funny as well as devastating, like Teffi’s account of the fashionable noble approach to being guillotined ‘a la Marie Antoinette’. Others go into the minutiae of the “insignificant” people like Kuprin’s story, translated by Josh Briggs, of this pilot’s little sister:
As the civil war drags on, Bulgakov, translated here by Martha Kelly, realises how long it will take to rebuild:
Now we’re in the days of the great-grandchildren, how bright are they? How much could these writers ever have foreseen? And if we were to write about today, would it be with such hope, as well as such despair?