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Home Uncategorized Where Yesterday Haunts Tomorrow

Where Yesterday Haunts Tomorrow

Alena Dvořáková
The Shoemaker and His Daughter, by Conor O’Clery, Doubleday Ireland, 384 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1781620434 Conor O’Clery is an Irish journalist and author of a number of well-received books, including two earlier works thematically related to The Shoemaker and His Daughter. In Melting Snow: An Irishman in Moscow (1991) he collected his experiences as the Irish Times correspondent in Moscow between 1980 and 1991, focusing mainly on the perestroika years under Gorbachev. Twenty years later he published Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union, a comprehensive account of the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, centred on the history and dynamic of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin relationship. O’Clery has been praised for producing original and carefully authenticated yet accessible narratives of complex historical happenings. His writing has also been singled out, as J Paul Goode put it, for “its ability to enliven” historical abstractions, providing ideal introductions to important chapters of Russian history for students and other lay readers. In The Shoemaker and His Daughter the author once again tackles life in the Soviet Union, this time from a personal angle. He enlivens the abstractions of Soviet history, geography and politics by retelling the life stories of chosen members of his wife, Zhanna’s, Russian-Armenian family – who, though originally from the Caucasus, decided in the late 1960s to start a new life in a faraway region in Siberia. The narrative centres especially on the struggles and achievements of Zhanna’s parents – the eponymous shoemaker Stanislav Suvorov and his wife Marietta, née Gukasyan. Both belonged to a generation born and bred in the Soviet communist system, destined to spend most of their productive lives within its confines. Thus they come close to embodying the type of citizen described by the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her Second-Hand Time (2013) as “homo sovieticus”, deeply conflicted about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet order. O’Clery’s narrative is fascinating for what it reveals about the absurdities of life in communist Russia. But the book is even more valuable for its depiction of the varieties of human experience and resilience in the face of adversity – from the destruction of war, murder and long-term imprisonment to life in the harsh Siberian climate, government-imposed austerity or the chaotic disintegration of basic social structures and compacts. In relating the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens forced to cope with often extraordinary circumstances, O’Clery relies not just on his relatives’ recollections, testimonies and mementoes…

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