“Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.”
– Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, in the first flush of his Presidency, early 2000
I have arranged my library in genres. Rack-A has shelves on Crime, Classics and Indian authors. Rack-B : Islam, Israel, American current affairs, War(other than World War II) and Humor. Quite a motley mix, my Rack-B. Rack-C is history and predominantly Nazi Germany and WW2. D is a melange of bestsellers and Space.
Rack-E is going ta make me a millionaire. It has some painstakingly collected First Editions and antique books. I just found an O’Henry printed in 1905 in an ornate hard cover, it’s paper so fine that it crinkles when you touch it. I got that for 50¢. I’ll read it and when the time comes, I’ll sell it for five grand.
Of course, I have arranged security against any pilferage – my Peacemaker Colt, which can drill a hole into any thief and his twin brother. That is, if he indeed had a twin brother and they were standing in line, one after the other. (I got the twin brother thing from the starting page of Alistair Maclean’s “When eight bells toll”. I am anything but original).
Did I mention I have a porn collection too? I have an illustrated Kama Sutra, Nancy Friday, E.L.James, Legs McNeil and a hardcover Marquis de Sade. (You won’t believe what this de Sade guy was up to). That will be Rack-B, bottom shelf, safely obscured by my rocking armchair.
Then there is a smaller rack that has encyclopedias, Nat Geo issues and compilations. One shelf on that rack is reserved for my reading knick knacks – pencil, sharpees, stickies and page markers, highlighters, Iphone/Ipad/camera charging outlets. And a bowl of peanuts, just in case I have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine on the coffee table to my right and it needs cumpunee. And a pocket flashlight, in case a peanut falls on the carpet and rolls in underneath a rack.
I am an organized son of a bitch.
Oh, I forgot this one – my Soyúz Sovétskikh shelf, on Rack-C. It has books on the Soviet Union. You have of course known the authors well – Le Carre : the genius of ‘understated, laid back’ spy fiction. Tom Clancy : the Republican wet dream gung-ho guy. Len Deighton, Brain Garfield and Fredrick Forsyth : ruthless evil. Solzenitsyn : fatigued suffering. And Ian Fleming : the tongue-in-cheek – varying depictions of Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (Russian for USSR), a land that could have have attained the status of a genuine utopia, if basic human nature had not got in the way.
There are a couple of non-fiction reads too. “KGB Today”, an in-your-face piece of American Cold War propaganda by John Barron, then a regular contributor to The Readers’ Digest, which was widely believed to be a propaganda publication of the US Government. If RT.com had been a print publication, it would be Russia’s Readers’ Digest. And there is “Autopsy of an Empire”, a blow-by-blow account of the fall of the Soviet Empire, by a former US ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Lumbering up menacingly over the ensemble, you discern an Illushyn IL-76 military transport aircraft. It looks as if it will be able to clear Deighton and Clancy by a hair’s breadth. Actually I’m not sure if that is an IL-76. But then, DILLIGAS?
I have Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” but since it was pre-revolution, it is in the Classics shelf on Rack-A. Didn’t I mention I was organized? And I have watched Dr Zhivago too many times to want to read the book, so Boris, I can’t waste shelf space here for ya. Dasvidaniya, kissmyassov.
I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up at a time when the Soviet Union was at it’s zenith. We lived in a tiny industrial town in India where the government was building an engineering behemoth that would manufacture heavy machinery for mining coal. It was a joint Indo-Soviet venture – the Soviets had thrown in financing and technical know-how and Indians had contributed the labor and the corrupt bureaucrats.
The place was crawling with Soviet experts in those days and they lived together in this massive compound of apartment blocks, known as the “Soviet Experts’ Hostels”. The compound had volleyball courts and a swimming pool that my brothers and I frequented. Often some matronly Russian woman sitting on a deck chair by the pool would beckon to us, give us a hug and hand us Russian-made cookies, with a grin through teeth that could never pass even the most primitive metal detector.
Through the prism of my 11-year old eyes, the Soviets seemed very friendly, often welcoming us into the movie theatre they had in the campus that was constantly running Russian films made by SovExport, a propaganda arm of the Soviet Union. If you were a kid on his summer break and had run out of games to play, you went to a Soviet movie at the Experts’ Hostel.
A SovExport film was invariably excruciatingly boring, besides being very amateurish. One that I remember watching had an old man pushing a wooden sled with a sick old woman in it, from the left side of the screen to the right, with the accompaniment of a 200-piece orchestra and a baritone chorus. He started on the left when the movie credits came on and we were hoping something would happen – like maybe a German Stuka would suddenly dive in and bomb the shit outa them or something. That was the only instance where I was hoping for the arrival of the Nazis. But the man just kept plodding on, until he disappeared with the sled, beyond the right-hand edge of the screen, just prior to the intermission. There were actual Soviet off-duty personnel and family watching, their eyes glued to the screen.
I watched a movie that had been based upon Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. I recall noticing a Lada drive by near the bottom right corner of the screen, right next to a van that was unloading klieg lights for the shooting. This was at a moment in our lives when we regularly went to watch finely crafted blockbuster American movies such as Sound of music, Battle of the Bulge and Von Ryan’s Express. Even my child’s brain could not help but laugh at the Soviet movie making skills.
But heck, it was fun. It was a time when hegemony and building spheres of influence were paramount. The encouragement to mingle was the Soviet Union’s “hearts and minds” exercise and as far as I was concerned, they were roaringly successful at it.
I wonder what Soviet porn was like. I haven’t read any and my porn shelf on Rack-B has space. Maybe they did have an Anonymousovich Boobovsky. I have to look into that.
Acronyms explained –
DILLIGAS? – Do I Look Like I Give A Shit?
(I like DILLIGAF better)