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A Ransomed Dissident: A Life in Art Under the Soviets

A Ransomed Dissident: A Life in Art Under the Soviets
Igor Golomstock

Translated by: Sara Jolly, Boris Dralyuk | Afterword by: Robert Chandler

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In 1939, a ten-year-old Igor Golomstock accompanied his mother, a medical doctor, to the vast network of labour camps in the Russian Far East. While she tended patients, he was minded by assorted 'trusty' prisoners - hardened criminals - and returned to Moscow an almost feral adolescent, fluent in obscene prison jargon but intellectually ignorant. Despite this dubious start he became a leading art historian and co-author (with his close friend Andrey Sinyavsky) of the first, deeply controversial, monograph on Picasso published in the Soviet Union.

His writings on his 43 years in the Soviet Union offer a rare insight into life as a quietly subversive art historian and the post-Stalin dissident community. In vivid prose Golomstock shows the difficulties of publishing, curating and talking about Western art in Soviet Russia and, with self-deprecating humour, the absurd tragicomedy of life for the Moscow intelligentsia during Khruschev's thaw and Brezhnev's stagnation. He also offers a unique personal perspective on the 1966 trial of Sinyavsky and Yuly Daniel, widely considered the end of Khruschev's liberalism and the spark that ignited the Soviet dissident movement.

In 1972 he was given `permission' to leave the Soviet Union, but only after paying a `ransom' of more than 25 years' salary, nominally intended to reimburse the state for his education. A remarkable collection of artists, scholars and intellectuals in Russia and the West, including Roland Penrose, came together to help him pay this astronomical sum. His memoirs of life once in the UK offer an insider's view of the BBC Russian Service and a penetrating analysis of the notorious feud between Sinyavsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Nominated for the Russian Booker Prize on its publication in Russian in 2014, The Ransomed Dissident opens a window onto the life of a remarkable man: a dissident of uncompromising moral integrity and with an outstanding gift for friendship.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Translator's Note

Turning Point

Part I. Russia

1. My Father's Arrest
2. Kolyma
3. Moscow
4. Finances and Romances
5. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Comrade Novikov Abram Efros and Andre' Gide The Museum of New Western Art
6. The International Festival and Artists
7. The Sinyavskys, Khlebny Lane, the Far North
8. Dancing Around Picasso
9. The Museum Again
11. Great Expectations
12. The Sinyavsky-Daniel Trial
13. Dissidents
14. Pen Portraits of My Friends
15. Questions of Faith
16. A Waiting Game
17. Departure: An Obstacle Race

Part II. Emigration
Translator's Note to Part II

18. The Journal Kontinent
19. The Anthony Blunt Affair
20. Radio Liberty, Galich
21. At the BBC
22. The Second Trial of Andrey Sinyavsky
23. Politics versus Aesthetics
24. Sinyavsky's Last Years
25. Perestroika
26. Family Matters

Instead of a Conclusion
The Benefits of Pessimism

Dramatis Personae

Appendix I
Appendix II
Select Bibliography

Author Info

Igor Golomstock (1929-2017) was a distinguished Russian art historian. He spent 12 years working as researcher and curator at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and published books on Cezanne, Picasso, Hieronymus Bosch and the art of ancient Mexico, as well as the seminal study of `totalitarian art'. His translations of Darkness at Noon and Animal Farm circulated widely in samizdat among the Moscow intelligentsia in the late 1950s. After emigrating to the UK, Golomstock taught at the universities of St. Andrews, Essex and Oxford, and worked for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty.

Sara Jolly is a literary translator. She has also worked as a freelance documentary filmmaker, and edited two episodes of the BBC's prize-winning series about perestroika, The Second Russian Revolution and Sally Potter's documentary about women in Soviet cinema, I'm a Horse, I'm an Ox.

Boris Dralyuk is a literary translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the translator, most recently, of Isaac Babel's Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories and Mikhail Zoshchenko's Sentimental Tales.


`Igor Golomstock was a talented critic of Russian and Western art and he had an extraordinary biography, from childhood in Kolyma to dissident years in Moscow, followed by emigration to Britain. He writes about all this like a Solzhenitsyn character come to life, and the result is gripping, sad and often very funny. A must for anyone who wants to understand Russia and Russian culture.'
- Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian, University of Oxford and author of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

`Golomstock recounts in lively style his life in three separate communities: the Moscow art world of the 1960s, the human rights movement and the post-1970s emigre milieu of London, Paris and Munich. He is an observer with strong but discriminating opinions; seldom have the personalities who inhabited these worlds and who in many cases hated each other been so vividly portrayed. This is an essential study for those who wish to understand the cultural and political conflicts of the late Soviet Union and the Russian emigration.'
- Geoffrey Hosking, Emeritus Professor of Russian History, University College London and author of Russia and the Russians: From Earliest Times to the Present

`A Ransomed Dissident is Igor Golomstock's most personal book and a perfect companion to his encyclopedic study Totalitarian Art (2012). In the past, some critics have argued that the term `Totalitarian Art' was too vague and that its very vagueness made it too easy to apply the term to such different countries as Russia, Germany, Italy and China. Following Golomstock's dramatic journey through the circles of the Soviet totalitarian art and culture, however, readers of A Ransomed Dissident will see how the supposedly vague term acquired a very real existential meaning. This is important reading for anyone with an interest in the history and politics of Russian art.'
- Vladimir Paperny, Adjunct Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, UCLA

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781788312950
Publication Date: 30 Oct 2018
Number of Pages: 264
Height: 226
Width: 155
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations in a 16 page plates section

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