Saturday, August 10, 2019

University of Chicago Press: 75% off eBooks through August 16th

I've limited my acquisitions of books this year but I'm picking up a few eBooks courtesy of the University of Chicago Press' flash sale. Also note that UCP makes an eBook available for free each month. Check out their site each month or get on their mailing list to see what's available. If you haven't checked out their site, it has links to their blog and so much more.

I have no affiliation with UCP. Also, I take no responsibility to damage done to anyone's budget other than my own.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Salvador Dalí’s Reissued Eccentric Cookbook

Since I missed this when it happened three years ago...
From MyModernMet.com back in 2016: Salvador Dalí’s Eccentric Cookbook Is Being Reissued for the First Time in Over 40 Years.

First published in 1973, Les Diners de Gala was a bizarre dream come true—a cookbook filled with surreal illustrations and recipes inspired by the lavish dinner parties that Dalí and his wife Gala organized. The parties were legendary for their wild opulence, with guests often required to dress in costume and wild animals left to roam free around the table.

Acclaimed publisher Taschen is reissuing the cookbook, available for pre-order, as only 400 of the original publications are known to exist. The book, which includes 136 recipes divided into 12 chapters, is arranged by courses—including aphrodisiacs. Aside from his illustrations, Dalí’s musings are scattered through the publication, giving insight into his philosophy on gustatory delights.

I wasn't familiar with this or the "companion" book that came out in 2017, Los Vinos de Gala. Fortunately my library has a copy of the cookbook, so I've placed a hold on it just to get a feel for the otherworldly I'm sure is inside it. I have a feeling it will be The Gallery of Regrettable Food writ large. Or maybe not. As NPR notes,

Though it's Dalí's cookbook, not all of the recipes originated in the artist's kitchen. He thanks the chefs of famous Parisian establishments like Michelin-starred Lasserre and La Tour d'Argent, art-nouveau bistro Maxim's and historic railway restaurant Le Train Bleu — originally known as Buffet de la Gare de Lyon — for their "highly gastronomical recipes." But it's the presentation of the dish, not the recipe, that earns a place on the table of a surrealist dinner party.

I'm much more interested in the wine book just to see how to make viniculture surreal, but it should be a strange trip all the same. For a glimpse of one of Dalí's parties:

Friday, July 12, 2019

How to Think about War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy by Thucydides


How to Think about War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy by Thucydides
Speeches from The History of the Peloponnesian War
Selected, translated, and introduced by Johanna Hanink
Princeton University Press, 2019
Hardcover, 336 pages
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers Series

I had not read any of the releases in Princeton University Press' Ancient Wisdom "How to" series but I wanted to find out what was in this volume. The title and subtitle are a little misleading since the six speeches from Thucydides' The History of the Peloponnesian War address more than simply war and foreign policy. The speeches, just like the work as a whole, look at human nature, imperialism, justice, human behavior, power, and so much more. Regardless, the speeches provide a good introduction to Thucydides for anyone that hasn't read the History, which as Hanink notes in the Introduction, can be "long, dense, and difficult." That might be a little overstated since someone like me can stumble my way through it, but I definitely remember being turned around at times when I read it. That being said, the work is intensely rewarding for the effort put into reading it. Think of this volume as a "highlights" reel, not capturing everything but giving you some of the high points.

Hanink has chosen six of the most famous passages from the History that

are especially rich in abstract reflections on war, human behavior, and what today we call political theory. It is also undoubtedly "in the speeches that much of the most explicit analysis of the nature of Athenian imperialism appears." ... This volume seeks to make the speeches more accessible by presenting them together, in a new translation that is faithful to the Greek but which also aims to be fresh and approachable. (xviii)

I like the focus on speeches since these were set pieces in Thucydides' History. He admits that they aren't precisely what was spoken at the time but they retain the spirit of what was said. Obviously this allows him latitude in constructing the speech to make the point(s) he wants the reader to take away from the passage. Hanink quotes C. W. MacLeod, who sums up that when Thucydides characters speak, "they are doing so with something to say, something to hide, something to achieve at a particular time and place." (liv) All of the speeches are by Athenians (and who provide one side of the Melian Dialogue). This focus by Hanink on the Athenian perspective opens "a window onto one particular community's influential and fascinating, but also extraordinarily tendentious and slanted, vision of the world and of itself." (xlvi) Speeches also lay out the reasoning in the speaker's attempt at persuasion toward or explanation for their goal.

Hanink's introduction provides an overview to Thucydides and the History and her notes for each speech help place the excerpts in context and summarize the points the speaker makes. She notes a common theme within the excerpts: "Each of the speeches in this volume contains remarks upon the origin, validity, and character of the Athenian empire." (xx) On the surface, the speeches are full of praise for Athens, laying out the reasons why it is superior to the rest of the Greek world. Thucydides undermines these messages by showing Athenian actions after the speeches that could be antithetical to what was just said. Those actions can be unsettling, although they aren't shown here, so the reader of just the speeches will miss Thucydides' implied criticism of Athens (although Hanink does provide some summaries). Even so, there is enough included in the speeches to realize not everything is as claimed. Pericles' first war speech anticipates future criticism he knows he will hear when the war turns difficult, and while inciting the Athenians to war he also cautions not to make it a war to expand their empire. You hear echoes of these exhortations in his last speech where he defends his strategy. The lofty rhetoric and praise in the funeral oration sets up an ideal of Athens that is impossible to live up to, and the plague that follows will demonstrate how short the Athenians fall in measuring against those principles. The Sicilian Debate essentially turns into farce from the speakers' political maneuverings for personal gain and glory, but the pending slaughter and devastation of the Athenian army on the island looms ominously for the modern reader who already knows the outcome.

It is the Mytilenean Debate and the Melian Dialogue, though, that are the most unnerving of the speeches. In explaining the harsh reaction of Athens to cities that rebel, Athenian representatives demonstrate a political realism that makes the reader realize Athens doesn't care about justice or other lofty ideals when it comes to other cities. Their only concern is Athens' own interests, regardless of the brutality involved. Even when there is a just outcome, such as sparing the Mytilenians from complete destruction, the reasons behind it (allowing them to live so Athens can collect their tributes) have nothing to do with justice or any other lofty ideal. I've listed the speeches included below this post and linked them to my amateurish attempt to summarize and comment during my first reading of the History.

The Ancient Wisdom series reminds me of classical handbooks (for lack of a better term) that used to provide writings from a particular classical writer or extracts around a particular topic from various ancient authors. Their stated goal is to present "the timeless and timely ideas of classical thinkers in lively new translations," ... making "the practical wisdom of the ancient world accessible for modern life." Regarding translation, Donald Kagan noted that Thucydides' "style is often very compressed and difficult to understand, so that any translation is necessarily an interpretation,” and Hanink herself said "Thucydides’ Greek is so difficult that even ancient native Greek speakers struggled with it." As Mary Beard has pointed out, this has implications in balancing the quality of the translation (making it easy to read) against capturing the character and flavor of Thucydides' text. I will say Hanink's translation is more direct and modern than the "older" translations I've read (Hobbes, Crawley). I'm not sure why the Greek text of the speeches are included, maybe to pad out the book or more likely to give it the "classical handbook" feel.

I like the idea of making these classical texts "accessible," even if that means excerpts instead of the complete works. I'd like to encourage reading all of Thucydides' History since it is a master class in strategic thinking, foreign policy, imperialism, and human nature, as well as covering the complexities of the Peloponnesian War. I understand if you're not ready for that level of commitment, though, and I highly recommend How to Think About War as a suitable précis for sections of the History. Hopefully it will move you to explore more!

The Speeches
(with book and chapter numbers from The History of the Peloponnesian War; links are to my posts on that section)
On Justifying a War: Pericles' First War Speech (1:140-144)
On Dying for Your Country: Pericles' Funeral Oration (2:34-46)
On Holding the Course: Pericles' Last Speech (2:60-64)
On Realpolitik: The Mytilenean Debate (3:37-49)
On Ruthlessness: The Melian Dialogue (5:85-113)
On Launching a Foreign Invasion: The Sicilian Debate (6:8.4-24)

Links:
Johanna Hanink's website

Excerpts from the book:
     Introduction
     Chapter 1
     The Greek text presented is from the Loeb editions, which can be found online in editions 108, 109, 110, and 169), although the Oxford Classical Text edition was used for translation.

Podcasts with Hanink about the book:
     The History of Ancient Greece Podcast, which can also be found here
     Carnegie Council (audio and transcript)

Hanink's article at Eidolon: The Twists and Turns of Translation

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Elemental by Tim James


Elemental: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything by Tim James
Abrams Press, 2019
Hardcover, 224 pages


Chemistry is not an abstract subject happening in dingy laboratories: it's happening everywhere around us and everywhere within us.

In order to understand chemistry, therefore, we have to understand the periodic table, that hideous thing you probably remember hanging on the wall of your chemistry classroom. Glaring down at you with all its boxes, letters, and numbers, the periodic table can be intimidating. But it's nothing more than an ingredients list, and once you've learned to decode it, the periodic table becomes one of your greatest allies in explaining the Universe. (4)
Tim James' Elemental: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything is a short, fun book that purports to help you understand how the world works. The title might seem a little misleading since it appears more as a history of chemistry, but James intertwines that history with explanations, experiments, and anecdotes to focus on how the elements listed in the periodic table (and how they work together...or don't) are important to our everyday lives. With the book jumping around quite a bit though, 'focus' might not be the correct word.

There are plenty of books aimed at the public attempting to explain the elements and the periodic table, several of which are listed in the notes section of Elemental. So why choose this one to read? Being a teacher, James presents the material in a way that is guaranteed to get your attention. For example, the first chapter introduces us to chlorine triflouride, "the most flammable substance ever made." Judging by the depth of the hole ClF3 burned through concrete at a chemical plant in Shreveport, Louisiana (over a meter), I'd say it's probably a fair claim. The educational part comes from investigating why ClF3 behave the way it does. You're not going to learn every detail for the elements or be able to predict how a particular compound will behave, but you'll have a better grasp of the elements based on where they are in the table, plus an appreciation on how our understanding of chemistry has developed.

Along with the educational material is entertainment. Corny jokes and hand drawings go with the conversational style, making it easy to remember the information. A sample of the humor, which probably causes as many groans in the classroom as much as it does on the page: in the section titled What is a Metal? he says,“When we hear the word metal we all picture the same thing: Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the bassist/vocalist of English rock band Motörhead. May he rest in peace.” I'll give him points for being brave enough to go with the cornball routine, and I'm almost embarrassed to say I enjoyed quite a bit of it. Almost.

If you have a student looking to explore the periodic table at the junior-high or high school level, Elemental is a quick and entertaining way to get a grasp of what they'll be studying in a chemistry class. The book isn't meant to cover everything, but combine this with some of the many online resources available and they'll have a solid foundation to build on in a class. In my case, I just wanted an entertaining and informative read, and Elemental fit the bill. In addition, now I know which element, if removed from human history, would have no impact on our development.

A nearby college puts on an entertaining physics show for kids and their families twice a year and they're motto is "If you can't have fun with physics, you're not a very fun person." It's clear that James takes a similar view towards chemistry, making it fun for students and readers in order for them to understand it better. Recommended.

Update: one thing I forgot to mention but meant to...if you're like me, you're going to want to get a good copy of the periodic table when reading this. I was surprised that a book about the periodic table doesn't have one in it (beyond sketches of the table). Fortunately I had picked up a couple of periodic table placemats a few years ago for school purposes and those fit the bill perfectly.

Link:
Tim James' YouTube page

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Hamlet: National Theatre Live (2015) via Fathom Events

If you have wanted to see the National Theatre Live's 2015 version of Hamlet and haven't had a chance yet, check the Fathom Events site to see if there will be a screening near you on July 8th. The time I saw it, the audience had a nice mix of ages which I attribute to Benedict Cumberbatch's popularity.

For what it's worth, I recommend taking advantage of this opportunity if you have the interest. I've linked to it before, but here's an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch on this production.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Women of the Gulag film

Several years ago I posted on Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives by Paul R. Gregory. A moving and powerful book, Gregory detailed some of the problems that five Soviet women faced when victimized by the gulag system. I believe I first found out about the book from Cynthia Haven at The Book Haven, and over the years she has posted about a film based on the book being made and the awards it was nominated for. The film was directed by Marianna Yarovskaya and produced by Yarovskaya and Gregory. Over the years I've added some of Cynthia's updates to my original post, but I'll list some of them here, too. Cynthia has also posted about a screening that the film had at Stanford and a podcast on the Q&A session afterwords. Her post includes more on the film:
The film tells the compelling stories of six remarkable women – among the last survivors of the Gulag, the brutal system of repression that devastated the Soviet population during the Stalin years. Most stories of the gulag have told of men’s experience. Women of the Gulag is the first account of women in the camps and special settlements.

Check out the links from Cynthia's post and from my post on the book. I'm looking forward to when I'll be able to see the movie. Also play the podcast she includes from the Q&A session. Yarovskaya mentions that most of the ladies from the film had died or were too infirm to attend the screening the movie had in Moscow, but that one woman was able to attend. Yarovskaya and Gregory talk about how the gulags are viewed in Russia today (if someone knows about them at all) and how the screenings and support from the government gradually occurred. (Note: it may have been my system, but the podcast froze occasionally. In case others run into that problem, I could get it to resume playing by skipping ahead 10-15 seconds.)

If you're not tired of links yet, here are two more to visit:
The film's website, which has a clip from the movie and goes into more detail of its making
An interview with the director

Picture source

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Under the Big Black Sun by John Doe, with Tom DeSavia and Friends


Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe, with Tome DeSavia and Friends
De Capo Press, 2016
Hardcover, 336 pages

Under the Big Black Sun explores the nascent Los Angeles punk rock movement and its evolution to hardcore punk as it's never been told before. Authors John Doe and Tom DeSavia have woven together an enthralling story of the legendary west coast scene from 1977-1982 by enlisting the voices of people who were there. The book shares chapter-length tales from the authors along with personal essays from famous (and infamous) players in the scene. Additional authors include: Exene Cervenka (X), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Mike Watt (The Minutemen), Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey (The Go-Go's), Dave Alvin (The Blasters), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Teresa Covarrubias (The Brat), Robert Lopez (The Zeros, El Vez), as well as scencesters and journalists Pleasant Gehman, Kristine McKenna, and Chris Morris. Through interstitial commentary, John Doe “narrates” this journey through the land of film noir sunshine, Hollywood back alleys, and suburban sprawl-the place where he met his artistic counterparts Exene, DJ Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom-and formed X, the band that became synonymous with, and in many ways defined, L.A. punk.

Under the Big Black Sun shares stories of friendship and love, ambition and feuds, grandiose dreams and cultural rage, all combined with the tattered, glossy sheen of pop culture weirdness that epitomized the operations of Hollywood's underbelly. Readers will travel to the clubs that defined the scene, as well as to the street corners, empty lots, apartment complexes, and squats that served as de facto salons for the musicians, artists, and fringe players that hashed out what would become punk rock in Los Angeles.
- From the inside bookflap, and also at John Doe's books webpage

While I'm slowly working through Stalingrad I thought I'd try to get to books I wanted to post on but just haven't had a chance yet. The other day I saw a review of the recently released More Fun in the New World by John Doe and TomDeSavia, which I'm looking forward to reading, and realized I had never posted on Doe's first book. I'll try and fix that.

LA punk was born from rock ‘n’ roll and one of the last steps—in the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll music. Although legends were born from this scene, there were very few stars and really no celebrities. This is an attempt to tell the story. When John and I first spoke of writing this book, I told him I thought it was important for the true story of LA punk rock to be told. He replied that everyone in the scene probably had their own truth to tell. He would be interested in that story, regardless of whether it matched his own memory. So here it is—the many true stories from a mostly undocumented era in cultural history. This book is about that time. (Tom DeSavia, xxii)

The book provides stories from those that participated in (and survived) the early LA punk era. The scene began to form around 1975 but came into its own by 1977, and the book focuses on that era up to about 1982. It's interesting to see the various recollections of how this loose communal experience came into being. Former glam rock fans becomes a common source, which made more sense the more I read through the chapters. It's also interesting to see who was included in the scene, groups like The Go-Gos and Los Lobos that you wouldn't necessarily place with The Germs, or Black Flag. Like the sources, though, it all fits together. Normal people, misanthropic misfits, and addled geniuses (and plenty of just-addled) came together and formed...well, we're probably still not sure quite what.

I'll disagree on Doe's use of "undocumented era," although he's not completely wrong, either. There was plenty of documentation of the scene at the time but usually not in high-circulation media. As the contributors note, LA's punk scene consistently placed well behind those in New York City and London when it came to coverage. One of the constant themes was how tight-knit and welcoming the early participants were, which drew in writers making their own fanzines and other outlets. Slash magazine became one of the most important outlets for writers interested in the scene. Existing from 1977 to 1980, the fanzine brought info on the LA punk scene to a worldwide audience. It also was the impetus for the founding of the Slash Records label (and its subsidiary Ruby Records). Coverage also began to go beyond alternative weeklies like the Los Angeles Reader to frequent notices in the Los Angeles Times. Coverage wasn't always positive, but that doesn't seem to have bothered anyone in the scene at the time.

Two important factors in the development of the LA punk scene revolved around where the participants lived and the venues that allowed the groups to perform and practice (such as The Masque). The stories from those that lived close to Hollywood venues allowing the punk bands to practice and play formed a community of sorts, where practice, play, and afterparties were the order of each day. Those that lived some distance from Hollywood usually talk about day jobs that funded their trips to the clubs and the groups they formed. Although not part of the closer-knit locals, acceptance was the order of the day with the scene (early on, especially). Kristine McKenna, a music writer at the time, captures both the volatility of the performances and the acceptance from audiences:

People who went to punk shows in the early days were respectful, they listened, and they were genuinely interested in the band onstage, even if they’d seen the same bank four nights earlier. We knew we’d always see something new, partly because these were mostly not professional musicians, and nobody did the same show twice, because they weren’t able to. Professionalism came later for some, but in the beginning the scene was truly experimental, and the audience was tolerant and supportive. ... We believed we were dangerous and subversive back in the day, but in fact, we were babies, yet to rub the fairy dust from our eyes. (241)

One risk for participants writing about a past movement is glamorizing what happened. While there is an occasional patina of romanticization, it's usually on a more personal level than ascribing it to the scene as a whole. Several reasons are given for the end of the "golden age" of the LA punk scene, around 1980, and these are anything but glamorized. Accidental deaths and suicides, drug abuse, incursions by violent types, record label signings, and the music splintering into various genres (hardcore, roots, country, etc.) pulled apart the feeling of community that had developed during the frenzied growth.

The sections I enjoyed the most centered on the east-side culture. Although late to the Hollywood scene, these bands mastered their own approach, paving the way for a sizable movement. Teresa Covarrubias of The Brat wrote my favorite chapter, going into detail on how the sense of geography (which was largely a factor of race), provided a healthy sense of camaraderie, competition and development within the East LA scene. In a way it was similar to what had developed in Hollywood, but there were many important differences.

I'll close with a John Doe quote that sums up a large part of the book:

This is how bonds & alliances were made & broken. This is how a bunch of outsiders, fuckups & loners turned into a bohemian, punk-rock community. People exchanged stories of where they came from, crazy shit they had done in their young lives, ideas of what was & wasn’t cool or what was or wasn’t punk rock. It was like going to the strangest, coolest graduate school of music, art & life, even though everyone was just fucking around having a wild time. (55)



What follows is of no interest to anyone else, so skip this paragraph unless you can tolerate someone strolling down amnesia lane.Regarding the noteworthy bands and names mentioned in the book, I saw X live twice. The first time was at a University of Alabama pep rally some time after their release of Under the Big Black Sun, so it must have been the fall of 1982. I can't remember if the pep rally was for homecoming or the Alabama/Auburn game. I still can't believe they got booked in Foster Auditorium! The second time was in Dallas in 1986, a bit after Ain’t Love Grand and The Knitters album was out. On this tour, Billy Zoom had left and Dave Alvin replaced him. Moving on... The Minutemen played one of the greatest sets I've seen, and I saw Mike Watt again with firehose. Strangely (or at least I view it that way), the two names from the book I've seen the most are Javier and Alejandro Escovedo. Javier was with The Zeros in LA for a brief time, while Alejandro was with The Nuns out of San Francisco, so they are minor characters in the book. It was with The True Believers I saw both of them over a dozen times, and if you add the times I saw Alejandro with Rank and File (in Memphis' Antenna Club...sa-lute!) and solo, he would be performer I've seen the most, all-time. Never sat down to try and figure that out before now. As I asked, forgive the babbling.

Links:
Review of More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk by John Doe and Tom DeSavia at Billboard.com. Includes an excerpt from the book by Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Gos.

An excerpt from Under the Big Black Sun by Henry Rollins.

There are excerpts from the book at the De Capo Press link at the top of the post.

Under The Big Black Sun: A Conversation with John Doe and Mike Watt at SXSW Music 2016

Slash magazine archives

Punk flyers from 1977 Los Angeles, with additional, related links

Movies with appearances by X can usually be found for free somewhere. X: The Unheard Music is currently available on SnagFilms and The Decline of Western Civilization, which covers some of the LA punk scene around 1980, can be currently be found for free on tubi and Pluto channels.

Picture source

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Article: How the Soviet Literary Establishment Censored Vasily Grossman

Robert Chandler has a short article in The New Yorker on the censorship of Grossman's book For a Just Cause (the recent English translation uses the title Grossman wanted—Stalingrad.
The original publication process of the novel is a case study of Soviet editorial practices and censorship. Grossman worked on the manuscript from 1943 until 1949 and then spent three years battling with his editors. Anticipating difficulties from the beginning, he recorded all relevant official conversations, letters, and meetings in a document titled “Diary of the Journey of the Novel For a Just Cause through Publishing Houses.”

While many of the required changes were made to soften any criticism of the Soviet political structure, other changes were for petty things and it makes for a revealing look at Soviet taboos. The last censored item mentioned, a story about a general using a goat to lead them out of a bog, is so silly I figure it's something Grossman actually heard during his job as a war correspondent.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day, from Ronnie Lane

The poetry of Ronnie Lane...two songs that capture some challenging aspects of father/son dynamics. In a good way, at least to me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman: Introduction

Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman
Translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
NYRB Classics, 2019
Paperback, 1088 pages

Judging by how limited my time was yesterday and only making my way through Robert Chandler's introduction to Stalingrad, this may be a true "summer(-long) read" for me. And I'm fine with that.

A few quick notes on that introduction...
Chandler provides a good, concise introduction to Stalingrad and the trouble Grossman had with its publication. Because of the relationship between this book and Life and Fate, there is a lot on the second book, too. I liked this view of the two novels:

It [Life and Fate] is, amongst other things, a considered statement of his moral and political philosophy—a meditation on the nature of totalitarianism, the danger presented by even the most seemingly benign of ideologies, and the moral responsibility of each individual for his own actions. … Stalingrad, in contrast, is less philosophical, but more immediate; it presents us with a richer, more varied human story. (viii)

From what I understand from Alexandra Popoff's book Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century, Chandler sums up one of Grossman's purposes perfectly when he says, “Stalingrad is, amongst much else, an act of homage. One of Grossman’s aims was to honour the dead—especially those who had been forgotten.” (xvii)

There are many historical figures in Stalingrad and Chandler looks at a couple of them. One of the central figures of the novel is Viktor Shtrum, based on Lev Yakovlevich Shtrum, “one of the founders of Soviet nuclear physics.” The historical Shtrum was executed in 1936 during one of many purges and the connection between the real-life person and the novel's character may have been lost to many people. Chandler points to an article by Tatian Dettmer establishing the relationship between the two. “The Physicist Lev Shtrum. Unknown Hero of a Famous Novel” is in Russian, but worth reading with a "Translate" option. The article covers the tragic life and fate of the physicist. I'll excerpt some of the article here. Note that the historical name shows up as "Strum" in translation.

More than half a century after the creation of the novel, a prototype of one of his main characters, the physicist Viktor Strum, was found. He was a Soviet nuclear physicist Lev Yakovlevich Strum (1890–1936), head of the department of theoretical physics at Kiev University.

The image of the physicist Victor Strum has a special place in the work of Grossman. The writer endowed Shtrum with his features and put his own thoughts on social and political themes into his mouth. Strum’s life story reproduces key points in the author’s biography: for example, the tragic story of a mother shot by the Germans in occupied Berdichev, or a slanderous letter that the Strum physicist signs at the time of spiritual confusion. A similar letter was once signed by Grossman himself, which he later bitterly regretted.



Another important feature of the hero of Grossman is the tendency to philosophical understanding of the surrounding reality, be it the peculiarities of the Soviet regime or the laws of physics, with the help of which Viktor Strum tries to explain the laws of social life. A versatile, enthusiastic, inquisitive person, Lev Strum was widely known in Kiev and beyond as a public lecturer and popularizer of science.

In an update to the article, Dettmer notes that Alexandra Popoff had found a couple of references to Lev Shtrum in Grossman’s letters to his father. Dettmer notes in the body of the article: “It is hoped that the answer to this question will be found: not all archival materials have been investigated both in Kiev and in Moscow.” There is more on the connection between the character and person at "Vasily Grossman and the Plight of Soviet Jewish Scientists: The Tragic Tale of the Physicist Lev Shtrum", a LitHub article credited to both Dettmer and Popoff.

Chandler is correct to note that Grossman took a risk by making the central character an “enemy of the people,” but Alexandra Popoff rounds out this observation by adding, “The fictional Shtrum is invested with Grossman’s personality: he is the author’s alter ego.” (page 202, Vassily Grossman and the Soviet Century). The importance of Viktor Shtrum to Grossman in the novel can be seen from Grossman's stubborn refusal to remove the character from Stalingrad despite repeated calls to delete the chapters in which he appeared.

Not only is the release of Stalingrad in English a cause for celebration, Chandler adds that there was a release in 2013 of the typescripts of Life and Fate that were confiscated by the KGB in 1961 and he hopes to revisit his translation in light of this new source material.

It's going to be a great summer...

Update:
Aargh, I hate it when I hit Publish before including everything I meant to. I also wanted to note that the book contains a timeline of the war (from the beginning of World War II to the surrender of German troops in Stalingrad), maps, an Afterword that goes into detail on the difficulty of piecing the text of the novel together, a helpful (and long) list of characters, and some books for further reading.

I don't know if this will be helpful for Stalingrad, but the BBC's "tree" of characters for Life and Fate might come in handy.

Also, HistoryofWar.org has a nice collection of Maps and Pictures for the Battle of Stalingrad.

More links can be found at the archived page of BBC4 Radio's page for Life and Fate. Clicking on the previously aired episodes comes up with "This episode will be available soon." Here's hoping that's correct.