Mikhail Bulgakov was a Ukrainian doctor who gave up medicine in 1921 at the aged of thirty and, living in Moscow, devoted himself to literature. He wrote absurdist, fantastical, grotesque comic plays, and novels such as A Dog’s Heart and The Fatal Eggs. He mocked the Soviet belief that science would solve all human problems and that society could progress to utopia and showed a magnificent disdain for this ethos of certainty. He deployed a prose style of boisterous nonsense to confront the new dour utilitarianism.
Here is an tale, written in 1936, by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms.
An old woman fell out of a window because she was too curious. She fell and broke into pieces.
Another old woman leaned out of the window and looked at the one that had broken into pieces, but because she was too curious, she also fell out of the window – fell and broke into pieces.
Then a third woman fell out of the window, then a fourth, and then a fifth.
When the sixth old woman fell out of the window, I became fed up with watching them and went to the Maltsevsky Market, where they said a blind man had been presented with a knit scarf. Continue reading
The great Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) studied medicine at university, and after graduating in 1916 was sent to be the sole doctor at an isolated hospital in the depths of the remote countryside. In the early part of the war, instead of conscripting them into the army, young civilian doctors were assigned to small provincial hospitals all over Russia. In his virgin white coat, he single-handedly administered to the local peasants. He treated gout, delivered babies, carried out rudimentary amputations and tried in vain to stop the spread of syphilis. His highly suspicious agricultural patients, of little education, mistrusted his techniques and ignored his advice. His first stories (A Young Doctor’s Notebook) were set in this outpost. They are tales of a modest, modern man of science fighting back archaic superstition. The educated doctor fighting an elemental force of unreason, ignorance and prejudice. They were written in the first person using the realistic narrative prose style of a late nineteenth century liberal. Continue reading
This photograph, of the raising of the flag of the USSR over the Reichstag in Berlin after the Red Army took the building on 2nd May 1945, was shot by the soviet photo-journalist Yevgeny Khaldei. He used his Leica camera to capture the moment of triumph. Stalin himself had urged a flag to be mounted on the building, seen as a key symbol at the heart of the fascist beast, to indicate the victory of the Red Army in the Battle of Berlin.