The Many Lives of Khrushchev's Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow's Arbat (Hardback)
  • The Many Lives of Khrushchev's Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow's Arbat (Hardback)
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The Many Lives of Khrushchev's Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow's Arbat (Hardback)

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Hardback 256 Pages / Published: 15/05/2008
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The Arbat neighborhood in central Moscow has long been home to many of Russia's most famous artists, writers, and scholars, as well as several of its leading cultural establishments. In an elegantly written and evocative portrait of a unique urban space at a time of transition, Stephen V. Bittner explores how the neighborhood changed during the period of ideological relaxation under Khrushchev that came to be known as the thaw.

The thaw is typically remembered as a golden age, a period of artistic rebirth and of relatively free expression after decades of Stalinist repression. By considering events at the Vakhtangov Theater, the Gnesin Music-Pedagogy Institute, the Union of Architects, and the Institute of World Literature, Bittner finds that the thaw was instead characterized by much confusion and contestation. As political strictures loosened after Stalin's death, cultural figures in the Arbat split-often along generational lines-over the parameters of reform and over the amount of freedom of expression now permitted. De-Stalinization provoked great anxiety because its scope was often unclear.

Particularly in debates about Khrushchev's urban-planning initiatives, which involved demolishing a part of the historical Arbat to build an ensemble of concrete-and-steel high- rises, a conflict emerged over what aspects of the Russian past should be prized in memory: the late tsarist city, the utopian modernism of the early Soviet period, or the neoclassical and gothic structures of Stalinism. Bittner's book is a window onto the complex beginning of a process that is not yet complete: deciding what to jettison and what to retain from the pre-Soviet and Soviet pasts as a new Russia moves to the future.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801446061
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 28 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 24 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
"Home to some key citadels of Russian culture that the author uses as case studies"The Gor'kii Institute of World Literature, the Gnesin Musical Institute, and the Vakhtangov Theater-and studded with intelligentsia sites of memory, the Arbat felt the Khrushchev-era 'thaw' keenly and greeted it with trepidation, disbelief, excitement, and hope. . . . Bittner's account consistently refines and complicates the myth of the 'thaw' while acknowledging myth's real cultural and social power. The 'thaw' myth and the Arbat myth, he argues, became entwined, even mutually constitutive. . . . An immensely rewarding and thought-provoking work."-Polly Jones, Russian Review
"Stepping behind the myth of the Khrushchevian Thaw, Stephen V. Bittner captures the excitement, intensity, uncertainty, and ambiguities of the pivotal era following Joseph Stalin's death by focusing on the life that was lived in Moscow's Faubourg Saint-Germain, the Arbat. Bittner brings the raucous faculty debates, carnivalesque poetry readings, and intense kitchen conversations of the era back to life, reminding his readers that social reality is often more complex than retrospective tales of remembrance render them."-Blair A. Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center
"Most anyone who has visited Moscow has strolled through the Arbat neighborhood and perhaps wondered what lay behind the facades of its remaining historical edifices; Stephen V. Bittner's use of the Arbat as a platform for examining the complexities of Russian history is both novel and intriguing. Bittner's writing is clear, interesting, and effective-he relates complicated histories with ease and grace."-Kathleen E. Smith, author of Mythmaking in the New Russia: Politics and Memory during the Yeltsin Era
"Stephen V. Bittner's extraordinary book examines four complex cultural fields in the Khrushchev era: theater, music, architecture, and literature. The Arbat, a key locus of the Thaw intelligentsia, functions as the site for Bittner's impeccable research into the cultural politics of post-Stalinism. His meticulous work provides an invaluable integration of generational, artistic, and political tensions as they played out across major cultural institutions in close geographical proximity to each other. Bittner's treatment of Thaw culture is nuanced and attentive to the era's complexities and contradictions. The volume is invaluable both for its enriching comparative account and as an example of how the best interdisciplinary work might be done."-Nancy Condee, University of Pittsburgh
"In a playful and innovative fashion, the highly talented historian Stephen V. Bittner demonstrates how several cross-generational cohorts of Moscow's intelligentsia who lived, worked, or studied in the Arbat experienced the thaw in their professional lives. The Many Lives of Khrushchev's Thaw is original, thoughtful, well-researched, and attractive; I learned a great deal from reading it."-Donald J. Raleigh, Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"Khrushchev's easing of Stalinist repression of culture, known as his 'thaw,' was a turning point in Soviet history. The Arbat is a section of Moscow long inhabited by leading intellectuals and cultural institutions. By artfully interweaving time and space, by carefully chronicling what might be called 'de-Stalinization in one neighborhood,' Stephen V. Bittner's fine book clarifies complexities and contradictions of the transition from totalitarianism that characterized the early post-Stalin period, some of which still plague Russia today."-William Taubman, Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science, Amherst College, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

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