Monday, September 25, 2017

Igort on Russian and Ukrainian History

I recently wrote on a post on Svetlana Alexievich's book, Secondhand Time, which, like all of Alexievich's books, describes the past from the point of view of ordinary men and women.  Alexievich's books use the speech of ordinary men and women to describe extraordinarily painful events.  Igort's two graphic novels, published as The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks:  Life and Death under Soviet Rule, do something similar.  The first graphic novel, The Ukrainian, describes Russian and Soviet violence in the country, both currently and in the Ukrainian past.  The graphic format of the book lends a unique dimension to the tragic stories students of man-made famine already know so much about.  We don't just read about the tragedy, we see an artist's depiction of their impact on individuals and communities.  The similarity between Igort's approach to history and Alexievich is particularly evident when Igort interviews varied impoverished Ukranians who have suffered mightly from the transition to capitalism.  These illustrated interviews are powerful, and the reader would love to see whole libraries of such interviews done, both for the Ukraine, and for America too.

When one visits the countries of the former Soviet Union, one sees countless old folks selling their wares by train stations, along busy streets, or outside of stores.  Igort describes one lady who, in her late seventies, sells nothing more than the use of her scale for a few seconds.  Igort does these people, and everyone, a service by listening carefully to women like these.  How is it life ended up this way for this particular women?  Of course, The Ukraine is largely a story of Russian aggression, and not really about the generic tragedy of age and poverty.  The Ukraine begins with Stalin's efforts to starve the country into submission, and ends with Putin's invasion of the Crimea and Eastern provinces.  

Igort, an Italian, is a partisan of a free and independent Ukraine.  He's also a partisan of a free and independent Russia, and devotes a large portion of the Russian Notebooks to describing the heroism of one of Russia's most famous murdered journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, who risked her life repeatedly to describe the horrors unfolding in Chechnya.  Igort visited the journalist's apartment complex, and the elevator in which she was gunned down, in a kind of pilgrimage.  And certainly Igort convinces us that the woman deserves to be known as a kind of saint.  For what are most saints, if not men and women who somehow overcome human fear and cowardice in the service of something higher, such as the Tolstoyan tradition of peacefulness and human rights?

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