THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 posts categorized "Belarus"

10 March 2017

The First Anthology of Belarusian Poetry in English: Sponsors and Censors

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For 57 years, from 1948 to 1985, UNESCO published its Collection of Representative Works, a series of books aiming to popularise major works of world literature written in lesser-known languages by translating them into more widely-used ones, particularly English and French. In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English appeared in this series. The book, Like Water, Like Fire: an Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day, was jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Byelorussian SSR, and published by the London imprint George Allen & Unwin.

Vera Rich, who translated all 221 poems in the anthology, came across the Belarusian community in London in October 1953 and since then took an active part in the life of the Belarusian diaspora in Britain and translated Belarusian poets. She also made an immense contribution to making Ukrainian poetry known in the English-speaking world. By the time Like Water, Like Fire appeared, Rich had already established herself as a poet, publisher of the poetry magazine Manifold, author of several books about Ukrainian and Belarusian literature, and a successful journalist.

LikeWaterTitle-pageTitle-page of Like Water, Like Fire. (London, 1971). X.981/2398

Like Water, Like Fire begins with the only known poem by Paŭliuk Bahrym (1812-c1891), ‘Play Then, Play’, which was taught in the schools of Soviet Belarus as the earliest example of peasants’ liberation literature. Already in this choice of the opening poem the influence of the anthology’s sponsors can be detected; it is even more obvious in the later sections of the volume.

This influence wasn’t absolute: the book contains a modest selection of persecuted authors such as Jazep Pušča, Uladzimir Duboŭka and Larysa Hienijuš. But there are no poems by Alieś Harun, a talented author deeply despised by the Soviet authorities. Vera Rich addressed this omission in 1982 when she published a volume of selected works by Harun, Maksim Bahdanovič, and Zmitrok Biadulia, The Images Swarm Free.

IMagesSwarmFreeTitle-page of The Images Swarm Free. (London, 1982) X.950/22024.

Arnold McMillin, who later became the most important scholar of Belarusian literature in the English-speaking world, welcomed Like Water, Like Fire as “an outstanding piece of work which will serve many English readers as an introduction to an unjustly neglected corner of European literature”. He noted that the book was the product of nearly 20 years of work and “the translations adhere closely to the form and rhythm of the original poems, and in many cases Miss Rich achieves felicitous results” . He was critical, however, of a misrepresentative – to a certain degree – selection of works, particularly from the 19th century:

No representation is given to such 19th-century poets as Ravinski, Čačot and Dunin-Marcinkievič, or to the anonymous Taras on Parnassus […] It is a pity that both by her selection of poems and by her introductory survey of the development of the Byelorussian poetry […] she creates the impression of a cultural void between 1828 and 1891.

Anton Adamovich of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York, also noted that “Soviet Belorussian poetry is represented most extensively […] and is translated most adequately […] But the poetry of the 1920s, the ‘years of plenty’ […] is very poorly represented with just a dozen poems.” Adamovich refers here to the translator’s comment that the “years of plenty” of the 1920s – the years of immense richness and vibrancy in Belarusian literature – were followed by the “years of dearth” under Stalin’s purges and repressions. About 90% of Belarusian writers published in the 1920s and-1930s were shot, died in NKVD prisons, were sent to the Gulag or were forced to leave the country.

It seems that Vera Rich’s work wasn’t entirely accepted by the Belarusian diaspora which had had great hopes for this publication and contributed to the translator’s efforts, as is evidenced by an extensive acknowledgements list. The book must have been seen by Belarusians in the west as a victim of Soviet ideological pressure. The Reverend Alexander Nadson, head of the Belarusian Catholic community in London, who knew Vera Rich for many years and assisted her with translations, recalled that the translator kept the exact content of Like Water, Like Fire secret. One day archival materials may shed light on the circumstances of appearance of this first – and so far only – anthology of Belarusian poetry in English.

Two curious stories relate to its publication. The first is narrated by the translator herself, who thanked “last and most definitely not least (and in view of the title, most appropriately) […] the Enfield Fire Service who salvaged the manuscript during a flood-cum-electrical-fire shortly before its completion”. Reading these words, those who knew Vera Rich would easily recall a chaotic but immensely amusing person who lived from one disaster to another and somehow even thrived on all those challenges.

The second story relates to the fact that the book appeared with two different dustjackets. One, with the former Belarusian coat of arms, the Pahonia evidently didn’t get approval from at least one of the sponsors: the Pahonia was banned in the Byelorussian SSR. The dustjacket had to be reprinted and the copies that went on sale carried a plain sky-blue jacket. A small number of copies with the original dustjacket have survived and occasionally appear in antiquarian bookshops in English-speaking countries.

Like_water_1    Like_water_2
The two dustjackets of Like Water, Like Fire.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London


References:

A. Adamovich, Review of ‘Like Water, Like Fire.An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. Slavic Review, 32 (1973), 4, pp. 863-864. Ac.2684.e.

Leanid Marakoŭ, Rėprėsavanyia litaratary, navukoŭtsy, rabotniki asvety, hramadskiia i kulʹturnyia dzeiachy Belarusi, 1794-1991: ėntsyklapedychny davednik u trokh tamakh.
Volume 1. (Minsk, 2002-2005). ZF.9.a.2546

A. McMillin. Review of ‘Like Water: Like Fire. An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. The Slavonic and East European Review, 50 (1972), pp. 118-120. Ac.2669.e

Rich, V. (2009) The most significant event in my life. Available from: https://belbritain.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/1-15/.

 

21 June 2016

An Unparalleled Authority on the History of Belarusian Literature

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On 21 June Prof Arnold McMillin will celebrate his 75th birthday. Until he retired in 2006, he was a Chair of Russian Literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He is particularly well known and loved for researching Belarusian literature. Prof McMillin is the author of the first English-language history of Belarusian literature, published in 1977. Since then, he has remained an unrivalled authority on the subject in the English-speaking world. His academic achievements are also a great witness to the work of small community-run libraries in Britain.

McMillin 4

Prof. Arnold McMillin by Alexandra Belookaya.  With a kind permission of the photographer. 

Prof McMillin’s contacts with the Belarusian community in London started soon after he began his doctoral dissertation in 1964. The topic was suggested by a slavist, Robert Auty: the vocabulary of the Belarusian literary language in the 19th century – a completely neglected field of Slavonic studies at that time.

The Belarusian community in Britain was not large, but active and intellectually strong. Many cultural activities then took place at the Belarusian Catholic Mission and its Marian House in north London, which are still in existence and maintaining their central role in the community. Marian House accommodated a rapidly-growing book collection started by few Belarusian priests who were passionate to preserve the Belarusian heritage which found its way to the west during and after the Second World War.

Here is how Prof McMillin describes his experience:

The librarian was Fr Haroška, a rather fierce man, but he truly helped me a lot – I needed texts of the 19th century for my research. The priests who lived in Marian House were very kind and learned. They were very helpful too, while I was quite ignorant of the subject. Some of the texts I needed were in the British Library, e.g. Czeczot, Rypiński, but by no means all. And Fr Haroška was very keen to help me. So between the two of them, the British Library and the Skaryna Library, I wrote my thesis. That was the beginning

By 1970, the book collection on the first floor of Marian House had grown to almost 7,000 volumes, among them many valuable and rare editions. On one occasion the floor of the room the library was housed in collapsed under the weight of books into the church directly underneath it. Soon after, a building across the road was purchased to house the newly established Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum; it incorporated the book collection from Marian House. Skarynaŭka was oficially opened in 1971 and it played a central role in supporting Belarusian studies in the west, as well as helping to re-publish authors and works forbidden under Soviet rule in newly-independent Belarus. Prof McMillin was not only the most committed user of the Library, but also its passionate advocate and supporter. When the Library became a registered charity, he joined its Board of Trustees and remains a member.

Soon after Prof McMillin’s dissertation appeared as a book, he was invited by a German academic publisher to write a history of Belarusian literature. A History of Byelorussian Literature: From Its Origins to The Present Day (Giessen, 1977; British Library X:0900/189(6)) provoked a lot of interest on its publication: it was the first academic work of such scale in). Initially, the publication was met with silence in Soviet Belarus: someone had to work out how to react to writings from the west. Prof McMillin’s evaluation of some untouchable Soviet writers was damning while he praised others who didn’t make into the official literary pantheon. Eventually, a nine-page review appeared in the leading literary journal Polymia (PP.4842.dcs.) in 1980. It was written by Prof Adam Maldzis of the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of BSSR. He was allowed to publish that review on two conditions: to accept the collaboration of two state-approved scholars and to include serious criticism of McMillin’s work. Eventually the review appeared under the names Ivan Navumienka, Michaś Mušynski and Adam Maldzis. McMillin’s approach was characterised as “bourgeois objectivist” – a made-up description to calm the editors’ fears.

McMillin 2

Despite this meaningless characterisation, the two scholars developed a cordial and productive friendship. Prof Maldzis was the first Soviet scholar to visit the Belarusian Library in London in 1982. His travel diary published in Minsk five years later contained extensive excerpts from publications and manuscripts he could not access often – on account of censorship – in the BSSR.

Meantime, for Prof McMillin A History of Byelorussian Literature was only the beginning. In the following years he published another four outstanding books surveying the Belarusian literary landscape. Belarusian Literature in the 1950s and 1960s (1999; ZA.9.a.4768(28)), Belarusian Literature of the Diaspora (2002; YC.2003.a.5621), Writing in a Cold Climate (2010; YC.2011.a.1614) and Spring Shoots (2015) continued his first monograph with newly emerging materials. All four books were translated into Belarusian soon after appearing in English: no other scholar, even in Belarus, had attempted such monumental and ground-breaking publications before. Only collective works from academic institutions covered some of those periods and authors.

McMillin 1

In addition to books, Prof McMillin authored dozens, if not hundreds, of articles, conference papers and book reviews. He brought to the light many names forgotten or intentionally ignored in Soviet Belarus. He has been passionate about discovering talented young authors and has pioneered many themes in the Belarusian literary studies; to take one example, he was the first to talk about the phenomenon of Belarusian prison literature.

For decades, Prof McMillin supported the Belarusian community and academic Belarusian studies in Britain. He edited the Journal of Belarusian Studies (ZC.9.a.9127), published by the Anglo-Belarusian Society since 1965, and delivered many talks organised by the Society.

Finally, any serious biographical article about Prof McMillin must mention his ingenious humour. Amusing and even shocking in his interviews, Prof McMillin is a curious example of a profound scholar never failing to captivate the hoi polloi with his broad knowledge and wisdom.

 Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London 

A symposium to mark Prof. Arnold McMillin's 75th birthday will be held at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies on June 24-25.  The full programme is available here

McMillin 3#

 

24 April 2016

Vera Rich In Memoriam (1936-2009)

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On April 24 2016 Vera Rich would have been 80. Everybody who knew this remarkable woman, seen often in the British Library’s Reading Rooms or on the Piazza, still can’t believe that she is no longer amongst us. I was particularly struck by the obituary in Index On Censorship written by Judith Vidal-Hall, stating the facts, obvious to all who met her:

Vera (born Faith Elizabeth) Rich, who died at home on 20 December 2009, was, quite simply, unique, her formidable intelligence matched only by her stubborn resistance to the cancer that plagued her later years.
They will miss her, increasingly, for there will not be another like her. I shall miss her very particular brand of extreme eccentricity combined with humour and the touch of genius.

  ViraRichBorysGudziak
Vera Rich with the Right Reverend Borys Gudziak, then rector of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, at the Ukrainian Institute in London (Photo by Olga Kerziouk) 

I am one of those who miss her badly. I miss her phone calls and emails (example below), reading Shevchenko in Ukrainian on the Piazza during coffee breaks, ordering books to answer her numerous queries about Ukrainian and Belarusian culture. Vera Rich is one of the best-known modern British names in Ukraine and Belarus. To understand why, it is worth looking in our catalogue

VERARICHTRANSLATIONSHEVCHENKOEmail from Vera Rich with her translation of Shevchenko's poem Oi hlianu ia, podyvliusia

Her contribution to translating and promoting Belarusian and Ukrainian literatures is enormous. English speakers interested in Eastern European literatures became familiar with works by Lesya Ukrainka, Taras Shevchenko, and Ivan Franko due to Vera’s translations. The British Library holds Constantine Bida’s, Lesya Ukrainka: life and work, which includes selected works translated by Vera Rich (Toronto, 1968; X.900/3941). For the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko’s death she translated his poetry for the book Song out of darkness.

VeraRichSong out of DarknessDSC_0041
Title page of Song out of darkness: selected poems by Taras Shevchenko (London, 1961) 11303.bb.3

The crowning achievement of her career as a translator from Ukrainian was published posthumously in 2013, for Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday: a translation of his Kobzar (Kyiv, 2013; YF.2014.b.264). Other translations are available online in the Ukrainian Electronic Library, such as her translation of a famous poem by Ivan Franko, Moisei (‘Moses’). A full bibliography of her Ukrainian literary translations is included in Hanna Kosiv’s monograph : Vira Rich: tvorchyĭ portret perekladacha (‘Vera Rich: portrait of a translator’; Lviv, 2011; YF.2012.a.17207). Interesting memoirs about meetings with her are published in a book by the Ukrainian literary critic Dmytro Drozdovsky Merydian rozuminni︠a︡ (Kyïv, 2011; YF.2012.a.12084). For many years Vera worked with the Ukrainian émigré community; from 1993-1999 she was a Deputy Editor of The Ukrainian Review (P.P.4842.dns), and later she wrote a popular column about recent news from Ukraine with the picant ending “And finally…” for the London-based émigré newspaper Ukrainska Dumka (‘Ukrainian Thought’; LOU.1165 [1994])

Her first translation from Belarusian appeared in 1957 in the émigré newspaper Batskaushchyna (‘Fatherland’), published in Munich (MFM.MF537T). It was a poem by the famous Belarusian poet Janka Kupala. In 1971 the first anthology of translations of Belarusian poetry into English, Like Water, Like Fire: An anthology of Byelorussian poetry from 1828 to the present day (X15/4600), containing the work of 40 poets, was published, followed by a bilingual selection of poetry, The Images Swarm Free (London, 1982; X.950/22024) with translations of poems by Ales Harun, Maksim Bahdanovich, and Zmitrok Biadula. In 2004 Radio Free Europe in Prague published her translations of modern Belarusian poetry Poems on liberty: reflections for Belarus (YD.2011.a.1845). After her death her translations were included in a bilingual book Melodiya︡ natkhnenni︠a︡ = A melody of inspiration (Minsk, 2012; YF.2012.a.21519; photo below). The full bibliography of her translations from Belarusian can be found here: http://www.belarus-misc.org/v-rich.htm#top

VeraRichBelarusianTranslationsDSC_0040

A passionate defender of human rights, Vera Rich translated from Russian manuscripts about Soviet censorship for The Medvedev papers by Zhores A. Medvedev (Nottingham, 1975; X.100/16205) and wrote an extensive chapter ‘Jewish themes and characters in Belorussian texts’ for The image of the Jew in Soviet literature: the post-Stalin period  (New York, 1985; 85/23477). For more than 20 years she was the Soviet and East European correspondent for the scientific weekly Nature. Her numerous contributions can be found in the archive

Other articles on a variety of subjects appeared in The Lancet and Index on Censorship. She also translated poems from Polish, especially by Cyprian Norwid, Spanish (the poem Los puntos cardinales by Carlos Sherman; Minsk, 2000; YF.2008.a.37017), Old Icelandic and Old English.

Vera Rich was also an accomplished original poet in her own right. Her modestly-published poetry books are: Outlines (London:, 1960; 11351.g.1), Sonnetarium: a chapbook of sonnets (London, 1962; 011498.a.45), Portents and Images: A collection of original verse and translations (London, [1963]; 11303.i.49) and Heritage of Dreams. A sketchbook in verse of Orkney ([Kirkwall], 1964; X.909/5128). Examples of her short, witty poems are available on the site AllPoetry. She was a founder and editor (1962-1969 and again from 1998 until her death) of the poetry magazine Manifold (ZK.9.a.6262). It published not only high-quality original poetry but also translations from lesser-known languages. Amongst all these numerous activities Vera found a time to prepare literary events and perform with her enthusiastic friends for various occasions in different places. I particularly remember the inspirational programme “Ukraine: From Mazepa to Maidan” performed in Oxford in 2007 at the invitation of the Oxford Student Ukrainian Society.

I would like to finish my tribute to this extraordinary woman with her own poem written for the 80th birthday of the prominent Belarusian priest Father Alexander Nadson  in 2006 and published in the Festschrift Sontsa tvai︠o︡ ne zakotsitstsa, i mesi︠a︡ts tvoĭ ne skhavaetstsa = Your sun shall never set again, and your moon shall wane no more: essays in honour of Fr Alexander Nadson on the occasion of his eightieth birthday… (Minsk, 2009; YF.2011.b.788) :

  NADSONPOEMVERARICHDSC_0007

 Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies

14 October 2015

Solitary voices from the people’s chorus: the painfully human art of Svetlana Aleksievich

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677px-Swetlana_Alexijewitsch_2013 (1)
                   Swetlana Alexijewitsch 2013 (From Wikimedia Commons,   ©Elke Wetzig; Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 8th October a new winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced. Svetlana Aleksievich became the first writer from Belarus and the first woman author who writes in Russian to receive this prestigious award. Born in Ivano-Frankivsk to Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father, Aleksievich also provides Ukraine with an opportunity to take pride in her.

The Nobel Prize has always attracted so much attention and controversy that very few laureates were received with solid approval and joy. Aleksievich is not an exception, being in the honourable company of Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and others. I will leave it for the readers to find more immediate responses to this award for themselves and take this opportunity to reflect on Aleksievich’s writings. 

Journalist by training, Svetlana Aleksievich finished her first book The War’s Unwomanly face just several years before the launch of perestroika in the Soviet Union. Cut by censorship, cautious editors and the author herself, fragments of this book were first published in literary magazines and in 1985 – as a book. In a short time the overall print run of several consequent editions reached two million copies. The book told real stories of women – participants in WWII. Aleksievich interviewed hundreds of women veterans and let them speak for themselves in their own words, so that the book reads as a series of individual monologues: memoirs, accounts, cries and confessions. The tone of the book presented a sharp contrast with the Soviet official line on treating the subject of the war with Nazi Germany as heroic sacrifice for the Soviet Motherland. Aleksievich showed the war in its entirety as horror and madness, fear and pain, hard labour and exposure of the best human and the worst beastial features in people. On the one hand, Aleksievich followed the steps of Ales Adamovich and Daniil Granin with their The Blockade Book and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Some critics trace the roots of her style to Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion.  On the other hand, Aleksievich turned document-based prose into a unique creative method. By removing the author figure from her books Aleksievich eliminated any distance between her heroes and the reader and created a narrative where the reader felt unprotected by an intermediary. The reader is ‘naked’ in front of the text and is wounded by the simple words in which the stories are expressed.

For the next 30 years Aleksievich continued to work in this genre, which I would describe metaphorically as ‘written oral history’. Together with her first book The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys (about children at war), Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, and Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster form the cycle that she entitled Voices from the Big Utopia. Her other two books Enchanted with Death (stories about suicides in the early post-Soviet period), and Second-hand Time (2013), that examines such as phenomenon as the Soviet Man, are written in a similar style and are closely linked to the cycle.

Prior to her major award, Aleksievich had received over twenty national and international prizes. Her works are translated into more than 30 languages. Over 20 films and a dozen theatre productions are based on Aleksievich’s books, including Prayer for Chernobyl  directed by Jenny Engdahl  at the New Vic Basement in 1999 and Juanita Wilson’s directorial debut The Door, a 16 minute short film based on Monologue About a Whole Life Written Down on Doors, the Testimony of Nikolai Fomich Kalugin – one of the accounts from Voices from Chernobyl. We sincerely congratulate Svetlana Aleksievich and wish her further great strength to write more books that challenge our understanding what it is to live, love and be human.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, European Studies

24 April 2015

“As though everyone were alive…”

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Type the word “Chernobyl” into our online catalogue, and a few thousand results will come for your attention. Unsurprisingly most of them will be scientific articles in academic journals and papers from international conferences as in the 29 years since the Chernobyl disaster a lot has been done by the world scientific community to assess the tragic event on 26 April 1986 and its consequences in all aspects. Articles and books have been published in many countries in various languages.  At the moment 13 theses about Chernobyl from universities in the United Kingdom are listed in our catalogue.

In addition our Belarusian and Ukrainian Collections offer researchers  ethnographical studies of the region of Polesia which was most severely affected by the catastrophe, as well as valuable albums of photographs by intrepid journalists who regularly visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In the Zone they take pictures of the rich wildlife there and of people who refused to leave their ancestral land and continued living in the contaminated places (they are called samosely).

CHERNOBYLALBUMSDSC_3048 Albums from our Collections

For the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the catastrophe Ukrainian photographers published the album Imennia zori Chornobyl (‘The star is called Chornobyl’; Kyiv, 1996; YA.2001.b.4323) and five years later the bilingual album Chornobyl: chas podolannia = Chornobyl: time of overcoming (Kyiv, 2001; LB.31.a.9541). British independent photographer John Darwell  travelled to the Exclusion Zone and produced a memorable album entitled Legacy. Photographs inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Stockport, 2001; LB.31.a.10507).

One of the most impressive albums was published in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the catastrophe by the well-known Belarusian photographer, ethnographer and publisher Dzianis Ramaniuk  with the title and text in three languages: Charnobyl / Chernobyl / Tschernobyl (Minsk, 2006; LF.37.b.78) It contains outstanding colour and black-and-white photographs by Ihar Byshniou, Anatol Kliashchuk and Dzianis Ramaniuk. The album gives a comprehensive overview of the nature and history of the region and its inhabitants. The German photographer Rüdiger Lubricht took pictures of abandoned villages and of samosely and of people who were involved in dealing with the immediate results of the catastrophe (Verlorene Orte. Gebrochene Biografien (Dortmund, 2012) LF.31.a.4052). The most recent photographic album by German photographer Gerd Ludwig (he visited the Chernobyl area nine times in recent 20 years), The long shadow of Chernobyl/Der lange Schatten von Tschernobyl/L'Ombre de Tchernobyl (Baden, 2014 [Awaiting shelfmark]) with an essay by Mikhail Gorbachev has already been acquired for the British Library.  

This great catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale inspired poets from various countries – from Belarus to Wales and Venezuela – to reflect about it and the future of the nuclear energy.

ChernobylPoetryDSC_3046Books of poetry from our Collections

A poet from Venezuela, Lucila Velasquez (1928-2009), was one of the first to write a long poem El Arbol de Chernobyl = Tree of Chernobyl (Caracas, 1989; YA.1993.a.6858) based on her meditation about the catastrophe and the future of humankind. Poems by Belarusian authors were collected in the anthology Zorka Palyn (Minsk, 1993; YA.2000.a.14105). In Britain, poet and environmentalist Mario Petrucci published two poetry books: Half life: Poems for Chernobyl (Coventry, 2004; YK.2006.a.9836) dedicated to the prominent Belarusian writer and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich) and Heavy water: A poem for Chernobyl (London, 2004; YK.2005.a.16818). Some of these poems can be found here. Later two versions of a documentary film were made based on Petrucci’s poem: Heavy Water: A film for Chernobyl and a shorter version called Half Life: A journey to Chernobyl. They were shown at various festivals (one of reviews is available  here).

The Ukrainian poet, translator and journalist Liubov Sirota, who is a native of Pripyat and witnessed the catastrophe with her own eyes, writes extensively on the subject. Some of her poems are accessible online. The title of my blog which just touches on our vast collection about Chernobyl derives from Sirota’s poem “To an Angel of Pripyat”. The poem is dedicated to the talented young pianist Olenka Chemezova, who died from cancer in the summer of 1995. It was published in a photo album of the same name.  The poet imagines that the ghost city of Pripyat is returning to life through the magic touch of the young pianist:

The darkened eye sockets of dead buildings
will once again be filled with the heat of human beings…
The city will hold its breath for a moment
while you descend into your house…

And again a thousand voices from the street
will begin to sound the former daily happenings…
as though everyone were alive, and all had returned,
as though the city were still alive….

(Translated from the Russian by Liubov Sirota and Debra Romanick Baldwin)

Liubov Sirota worked together with Rolland Sergienko to create the film Porog (‘Threshhold’) about Chernobyl. The British Library does not hold many DVDs from Eastern Europe, but it has a DVD of the Belarusian film-maker Viktor Korzun’s, Verytsʹ tolʹki vetru: Charnobylʹ 20 hadoŭ paslia (Minsk, 2007; EF.2013.x.26)

ChernobylMUseumUkrainian_National_museum_'Tchornobyl'_in_Kyiv_1 90px-CC_some_rights_reserved_svg
Names of Lost villages, in the  Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum (Photo by Volodymyr Levchuk from Wikimedia Commons)

Music is another powerful vehicle to express the human pain and horror caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. Some specimens of musical works about Chernobyl are available in our Sound collections: from Chernobyl by Blanck Mass and Chernobyl Rain by Hibbs (Gong) to orchestral music (Chernobyl by Nancy van de Vate, performed by the Polish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra). New musical works about Chernobyl are created every year. It is heart-warming to find out that on Sunday 26 April 2015 the London-based Ukrainian composer Alla Sirenko will present the premiere of her own work in London dedicated to the victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies

References

Aleksievich, Svetlana. Voices from Chernobyl: chronicle of the future. Normall, Il., 2005. m05/30342

Medvedev, Zhores A. The legacy of Chernobyl.   Nottingham, 2011. YC.2012.a.15740

Mycio, Mary. Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl. Washington, D.C., 2005. YC.2006.a.10733

Park, Chris C. Chernobyl. The Long Shadow. London, 1989. YC.1989.a.6423

Read, Piers Paul. Ablaze: the story of Chernobyl. London,1993. YK.1995.a.2707

Shcherbak, Iurii.  Chernobyl: a documentary story (translated from the Ukrainian by Ian Press; foreword by David R. Morples). Basingstoke,1989.  YC.1989.a.8562 and 89/12279.



26 September 2014

Kazimir Malevich - pioneer of Russian abstract art

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Vistula

“Look, just look, the Vistula is near”. Poster designed by Kazimir Malevich with caption by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Moscow, 1914). British Library HS.74/273(3)

Having just viewed the excellent Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example the figure of an officer on one of the series of anti-German propaganda postcards in the “Works on paper” section with the caption “Look, just look, the Vistula is near” appears again on one of the lithographed posters Malevich designed for the project “Today’s Lubok” in the same year. In both the postcard and poster (which uses different colours) you can already see the tendency towards depicting the human figure as being made up of geometrical shapes, the use of bright colours (also found in Russian folk paintings or lubki) and the stylised patterns (e.g. to depict grass) of contemporary Primitivist paintings.

The British Library holds four lithographed First World War posters designed by Malevich.  One of these – “Wilhelm’s Merry-go-round” (HS 74/273(4)) – is also displayed in the British Library’s current exhibition Enduring War.

Malevich, Prayer

Kazimir Malevich, “Prayer” from Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh. (St Petersburg, 1913). C.114mm.28.

Also included in the “Works on paper” section of the exhibition is Malevich’s “Molitva” (Prayer). This appears in the lithographed Futurist publication Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh (known in English as “Explodity”). It is in the Cubo-Futurist style which combines the multi-viewpoints and cylindrical machine like shapes of Cubism (cf. Léger) with the dynamic approach of Futurism though here applied in the Russian manner to a static meditative pose rather than depicting movement.

During his Futurist period Malevich developed the theory of alogism where colour is divorced from the object that is being depicted. This combined with the irrationalism of the Russian Futurists can be seen in  An Englishman in Moscow (1914) where objects of different scale and unnatural colour are combined in a surrealistic collage.

Punin, Lectures

Nikolai Punin, Pervyi tsikl lektsii. (Petrograd, 1920). C.145.a.2.

There are several examples of book covers designed by Malevich included in the exhibition. One also held by the British Library is his cover for Nikolai Punin’s, Pervyi tsikl lektsii (First cycle of lectures). This cover exemplifies the use of bright colours and geometrical forms of Malevich’s abstract Suprematist  style for a book about drawing in modern art.

New systems in Art

Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve. (Vitebsk, 1919). C.114.n.46.

In 1919 Malevich joined the art school set up by Chagall in Vitebsk. Here he began to produce books that promoted Suprematism as the correct method for modern art. His ideas were elucidated further in the manifesto O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New systems in Art) published in Vitebsk in 1919. This publication was hand produced in the Art School by transfer lithography with a linocut (see above) by El Lissitzky. It was republished in abbreviated form by Narkompros as Ot Sezanna do suprematizmu (From Cezanne to Suprematism) in 1920. (C.127.g.11.) 

Affirmer of the New Art

“A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin” from  Mikhail Karasik, Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva. (St Petersburg, 2007). HS.74/1966. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

An interesting use of Malevich’s Suprematist imagery can be seen in Mikhail Karasik’s artist’s book of 16 lithographs entitled Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva  (To the Affirmer of the New Art). In No.6 “A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin: Stalin calls upon the spirit of Malevich” his black square and a robotic looking figure together with the letters of the artists’ collective UNOVIS are merged into a contemporary photo of Stalin making a speech.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

References

Other original works by Malevich held by the British Library:

Kazimir Malevich, Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika [God is not cast down: art, church, factory], (Vitebsk, 1922). C.114.n.33.

Kazimir Malevich, Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: novyi zhivopisnyi realizm [From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: new painterly realism], 3rd edition. (Moscow, 1916). C.114.mm.25.

Artists books containing illustrations by Malevich:

Daniel Kharms, Na smert’ Kazimira Malevicha [On the death of Kazimir Malevich], (St Petersburg, 2000). Lithographs and commentaries by Mikhail Karasik. Cover decorated with a fabric design by Malevich. HS.74/1743

Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, Igra v adu [Game in hell], 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). Cover and 3 lithographs by Malevich. Cup.406.g.2 and C.114.mm.41.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Pobeda nad solntsem; opera [Victory over the sun: opera], music by M. Matiushin, (St Petersburg, 1913). A set design by Malevich appears on the cover. C.114.mm.9.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Slovo kak takovoe [Word as such.], (Moscow, 1913). Cover illustration (Reaper) by K. Malevich. C.114.mm.23.

Troe [Three] by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and E. Guro, (St Petersburg, 1913). Cover and drawings dedicated to the memory of E. Guro by K. Malevich. C.105.a.7

Zina V. and Aleksei Kruchenykh. Porosiata [Piglets], (St Petersburg: EUY, 1913). Cover (Peasant woman) and illustrations (including “Portrait of a builder”) by Malevich. C.104.e.21

Useful reference sources:

Malevich edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. (London, 2014.) [Catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition]

Leaflet text of Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern by Simon Bolitho.

27 January 2014

One Family’s Story in Bobruisk during the Second World War

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The population of Belarus suffered terribly during the Second World War, but the biggest losses occurred among the country’s Jewish communities.  Even now, nearly 70 years after the war, there are still no official statistics for the numbers of dead – only estimates. We can only imagine how terrible it was for civilians to survive, and how hard it was to recover and to rebuild their lives after the war.

January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom to remember all innocent victims.
I decided to tell the story of my good friend Lily Samuel-Podrobinok and of her parents’ families, who were evacuated by train to the Ural Region and  escaped the Holocaust.

The family of Lily’s father Meir Podrobinok (born 1934) comes from the city of Bobriusk.  Meir’s mother Leah, a housewife, and his father Zalman, a milkman, were both born there. Lily’s mother Nina Leokumovich (born 1942) and her family come from Zhlobin in  Gomel Region and later relocated to live and work in Bobruisk. Nina’s father Abram became very famous for his excellent work as a vet, and her mother Ronia was a hospital nurse.

Bobruisk (or Babruisk)  is a city in the Mogilev Region situated on the river Berezina. Established in mediaeval times, it is first mentioned in a document of 1387. Anna Vygodskaia described Bobruisk as “a sleepy provincial town, whose inhabitants sealed themselves off from the rest of the world”, until in the 1870s the railway connected Bobruisk to Minsk, Vilno, Gomel and Libava (Latvia). Being in close proximity to Russia and Poland, Bobruisk quickly established itself as a trading centre.  

The first mention of the Jewish community in historical documents was in 1508. Just a few families were living there, but by 1766 the community had grown to 395. The biggest rise in population was in the 19th century: by 1897 the total population of the city was 28,764, of whom 71% (20,438) were Jewish. Bobruisk came to be called “the city of 40 synagogues” – there is only one left today.

Bobruisk synagogues
 Postcard showing synagogues of Bobruisk. From : Vladimir Likhodedov. Sinagogi = Synagogues  (Minsk, 2007.) YF.2009.b.2407

By 1917 there were 42 synagogues, a Jewish school and hospital, cinemas, a drama club and a Jewish library, one of the four largest of its kind in the Russian Empire.  Bobruisk was also a centre of book publishing in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian; the best-known publisher, Iakov Gunzburg (Yaaḳov Ginzburg), was active until 1928. There were a number of Jewish newspapers (Bobruiskii listok, Bobruskie otkliki and Bobruiskii ezhenedelnik) and Zionist and other political organizations. The most famous was BUND, which also published political literature.

Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941; Minsk, the capital of Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, was occupied on 26 June, but the Mogilev Region and Bobruisk were defended by Red Army soldiers and military cadets until the town was taken by German soldiers on 28 July. There was only a short time for the residents to make one very important life-changing decision: to leave their home town or to stay.

Zalman Podrobinok
Zalman Podrobinok, photo taken after the war [by kind permission of Lily Samuel-Podrobinok]

Lily’s grandfather Zalman had joined the Red Army infantry. In 1943 or 1944 he was injured and spent some time in hospital; he was reunited with his family through the Red Cross. The rest of Lily’s family on both sides decided to leave Bobruisk. With the Germans bombing and German paratroopers already in the city, there was total chaos and confusion among the population. The family walked 60 km to Rogachev (Rahachow) and then on to Propoisk (today known as Slavgorod), where they safely boarded an open-carriage train to Russia.

At one point the family almost became separated. Somebody saw the young children walking and offered the family a lift to the railway station; the mother helped the children in, but there was no more room, so the car left without her. The children decided they didn’t want to travel alone, so got out and ran back to find their mother. Luckily the family were reunited, and a train took them to Cheliabinsk.

With the outbreak of war the small Russian town of Cheliabinsk had suddenly grown into a big industrial centre with lots of workers, factories and plants evacuated there. Zalman Podrobinok worked at the military plant and Abram Leokumovich worked as a vet, helping to look after the horses used by the Red Army.

The occupation of Belarus lasted four long years. During Operation Bagration Belarus was liberated on 4 July 1944; Bobruisk had been liberated in June 1944 by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Belarusian fronts and 1st Baltic front.

Under Nazi occupation there were 260 internal camps in Belarus and 296 Jewish ghettos, of which 36 were in the Mogilev Region.  209 cities and towns were destroyed and 627 villages burned to the ground; 158 were never repopulated. The village of Khatyn  is a symbol and memorial of all the burned villages in Belarus.

In October 1941 prisoner of war camps were set up in Bobruisk and a Jewish ghetto nine kilometres away in the village of Kamenka, where more than 25,000 people were imprisoned, not only from Bobruisk, but later in 1942 prisoners were relocated from the Warsaw ghetto.   Altogether, by the end of the German occupation more than 40,000 prisoners of war and 40,000 civilians had been killed in the Bobruisk area.

There are 572 Jewish Holocaust memorials and monuments in Belarus, and 72 memorials thanks to generous donations from World Jewish Relief (WJR) and the Simon Mark Lazarus Foundation, UK.

Lily’s family returned to Bobruisk in 1946, although some families decided to stay in Russia; some members of Lily’s own family stayed in Cheliabinsk. Coming home again was hard, and it took a long time to settle back into normal life. Zalman and Leah Podrobinok’s home had been destroyed by heavy bombing, so they took out a mortgage to rebuild their house.

Abram and Ronia Leokumovich also came to Bobruisk in 1946 and, because there was a shortage of vets, Abram was offered his job back together with very comfortable office accommodation.

Leokumovich family
Efim, Nina and Abram Leokumovich in a photo taken after the war in Bobruisk [by kind permission of Lily Samuel-Podrobinok]

Both families rebuilt their lives and gave all their children a higher education. In 1990 they decided to emigrate to Israel, but continue to visit Bobruisk as often as possible.

The Jewish community in Bobruisk was revived when a young rabbi from Israel came with his family and restored the synagogue. Today a Jewish community of around 4,000 remains, and the future looks promising!

I would like to thank Lily and her family for their help!

Rimma Lough,  Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian  Cataloguer

References:

Anna Vygodskaia, The story of a life: Memoirs of a young Jewish woman in the Russian Empire (DeKalb,  2012) YC.2012.a.9563

Bobruĭskaia gorodskaia evreĭskaia obshchina : 500 let (Bobruisk, 2008)  LF.31.a.2961.

Pamiats’ : Babruĭsk (‘Minsk, 1995) YA.2003.a.9447.

Pamiatsʹ Belarusʹ  (Minsk, 1995) YA.2001.a.2761.

Ales Adamovich, Khatyn; translated by Glenys Kozlov [et al.] (London, 2012) H.2013/.8994.

Khatyn’ = Khatyn = Chatyn (Minsk, 2005) YF.2006.a.5117.

06 January 2014

Celebrating Kaliady

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Kaliady – it’s  Christmas, but Belarusian style. ‘Kaliady’ means Calendar (Calendae in Latin)

When I was staying at my parents home this summer in Brest, Belarus I found a wonderful card, published in Minsk by Belposhta with a verse about Kaliady by Belarusian author, poet and translator Ryhor Baradulin and illustrated by Volha Bialitskaia.


Kaliady card
Belarusian Kaliady card. The inscription reads:  “Let the light of Kaliady’s star shine for your happiness, let the vodka and fate not be bitter”.

Kaliady, which lasts from 25 December 25 to 7 January is a traditional winter festival with Pagan roots. Its celebration coincides with Christmas; there are 12 vegetarian dishes on the festive table and the main dish is Kutia, a sweet grain pudding .

Kaliady is always about traditional values:  family, home, children and of course fun. People dress up in costumes and go with songs and music from home to home – trick or treating almost – but according to folklore the more people knock on your door during Kaliady the more good luck you have in the New Year.

The British Library’s Sound collections hold a CD by Belarusian folk group Troitsa  called Zimachka   (“Winter”) with traditional Belarusian winter folk songs (call  number: 1CD0336480 ). This  well-known group was established in 1996 in Minsk, Belarus. The CD has been kindly catalogued by my colleague Ian Davis (Sound and Vision Cataloguer).

We wish all our readers the very best for Kaliady and the coming year!

Rimma Lough, Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian Cataloguer

18 December 2013

“This country called Belarus”: our latest Belarusian acquisition

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In June 2013 I saw some information about the book  This Country Called Belarus: an Illustrated History  on the website of the Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva. I contacted our supplier MIPP, a firm based in Lithuania, to buy a copy of the book straight away, because some books are so popular they sell out very quickly. In July 2013 the book arrived at the British Library and I catalogued it; it is now available at shelfmark YD.2013.b.892.
 
Nasha Niva 1908
Nasha Niva
from 1908 (Facsimile edition (Minsk, 1992) at BL shelfmark ZA.9.d.369

Nasha Niva was the first Belarusian-language newspaper; it was published by two major Belarusian cultural figures, Ivan Lutskevich and Anton Lutskevich, and appeared weekly between 1906 and 1915 in  Vilnius [Polish: Wilno, Belarusian: Vilnia]. Publication ceased when the Germans occupied the city in the First World War and was renewed briefly in 1920. The newspaper appeared once again in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The editor at the time was Andrei Skurko.

This Country called Belarus
Cover of the book This country called Belarus (Bratislava, 2013). YD.2013.b.892

The author of the book — the first Belarusian edition of which appeared in 2003 — is Uladzimir Arlou, a well-known Belarusian historian and writer; the artistic designer is Zmitser Herasimovich. The translator is Jim Dingley, Acting Chairman of the Anglo-Belarusian Society. The book was published in Bratislava, Slovakia. The presentation of this book to the world was thus a truly international effort.

The book covers art, history, culture, famous historical figures and facts, biographies, all of which combine to make this book into a most beautiful publication about Belarus.

I hope our readers will enjoy reading it!

Rimma Lough, Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian Cataloguer

04 November 2013

Classroom curiosities

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Cultural history and history of education is a relatively new research trend, so it was not obvious to the previous generations of librarians and curators that future scholars would want to examine textbooks. This type of material is difficult to collect and preserve. Although produced in large quantities and numerous editions, textbooks, like newspapers and ephemera, are not meant to survive. Older foreign textbooks and practical guides for teaching and learning represent an especially precious category of items. What was meant to be cheaply-produced learning material now becomes invaluable for the simple reason that very few copies survive. One of the most treasured works in our collections is Ivan Fedorov's  Azbuka (shelfmark C.104.dd.11(1)), printed in Lviv in 1574, the first printed and dated East Slavonic primer. This is an extremely rare item - there is only one other recorded copy in the world, at Harvard University Library.

Fedorov's primer 2
Fedorov's Azbuka 

A Slavonic Grammar by Meletii Smotritsky was first printed in 1618-1619 and reprinted several times in the 17th century. Smotritsky made an attempt to codify the contemporary Church Slavonic language as used in the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian lands. The book had a significant impact on the development of these languages. In 1648 the grammar was reworked to reflect the norms of the language as used in Moscow at that time. We have two copies of the 1648 edition [shelfmarks 71.d.16 and C.125.d.14]. The latter copy comes from the collection  of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)  and bears notes in Latin, which suggests that the book was used for learning purposes. Interestingly, all notes are made on the page where the  principles of Russian syntax are explained, which probably suggests that the learner was quite advanced. Before belonging to a foreign owner, this copy was in possession of a priest – one Andrei  Petrovich Peresvetov.

Smotritskii2
Sloane's copy of Smotritsky's grammar (C.125.d.14) showing the Latin notes

The first Russian textbook on mathematics by Leonty Magnitsky was published in 1703, also in the Church Slavonic language (shelfmark 8531.f.16). It is both an encyclopedia of mathematics which explains its rationale and provides numerous tables, measures and rules, and a textbook with lots of practical 'problems', such as how many bricks are needed to build a wall of certain measurements (see the illustration below), or what one’s debt would be if one wanted a loan at a certain percentage.  The book was published in 2,400 copies and used in schools till the 1750s.

Magnitskii

There are more examples of learning and teaching materials from the 19th century in such subjects as languages, history, the Orthodox religion, rhetoric, poetry, literature and law. One of the more curious titles is the book by Ivan Zander Nachatki russkogo iazyka dlia nemetskogo iunoshestva [The foundations of the Russia language for German youths], published in Riga in 1869 [shelfmark 12976.h.18.], which included Russian proverbs with parallel translations. It is very likely that the book was acquired by pure chance, but maybe some British Museum readers used German as a language of instruction while learning Russian, as there were no similar books in English.

Slavonic studies fully emerged in Britain in the 20th century (on the history of learning and studying Russian, see James Muckle. The Russian language in Britain: a historical survey of learners and teachers (Ilkestone, 2008; shelfmarks  YK.2009.a.30298 and m09/.13908 ) and, of course, learning material in English started to be produced in Britain.  In the British Library, we have a nice pocket-size booklet called Russkii Uchenik= The Russian Pupil (Manchester, 1919; shelfmark 12975.a.34). Its author claims that the size is part of his method: “For one thing, you get tired of handling your text-book too often, you find you cannot always carry it about to look at it at odd moments. What is the remedy then? A little, well-printed booklet that you could carry about in your pocket like a letter where words and grammar are arranged in a manner which does not tax your brains in the least but nevertheless enables you to assimilate knowledge in an exceedingly interesting, novel, and attractive manner”. Sounds like an advert of a learning app, doesn’t it?  

Russian Pupil1
Early lessons from Russkii Uchenik= The Russian Pupil

The British Library also holds some Soviet schoolbooks, which might be an interesting resource for historians of the Soviet system of education. And, of course, one can find plenty of curiosities, such as Uchebnik avtoliubitelia [A textbook for the amateur  driver and car owner] (Moscow, 1952; shelfmark 08774.b.3), Uchebnik dlia mladshego veterinarnogo fel’dshera [A textbook for the junior veterinary  practitioner] (Moscow-Leningrad, 1950) and various learning materials for propagandists of atheism, ship’s carpenters, textbooks on logic for secondary schools, and various other subjects. In the atmosphere of Cold War it is not surprising that the British Museum acquired such books as Uchebnik voennoi gigieny [A textbook on military hygiene] (Moscow, 1962; shelfmark 7327.e.45) or Uchebnik angliiskogo iazyka dlia vysshikh voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii [English for Military Highschools] (Moscow, 1957; shelfmark W.P.12521)

At the beginning of perestroika the decision was taken to collect samples of textbooks that would represent the changes in the system of education and in  society, so it is not unexpected that one of examples of school literature of the 21st century is Bukvarʹ shkolʹnika : Putevoditelʹ nachala poznaniia veshchei bozhestvennykh i chelovecheskikh [The Pupil’s primer: the guidebook for learning about things divine and human] (Moscow, 2004; shelfmark YF.2006.b.558).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator (Russian)