Sochi Olympics Reading List

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

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If you can't get enough of the Olympic spirit......
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. Brown (Under a Flaming Sky, 2006) takes enough time to profile the principals in this story while using the 1936 games and Hitler’s heavy financial and political investment in them to pull the narrative along. In doing so, he offers a vivid picture of the socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America (brutal), the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower, the exquisite brainpower and materials that go into making a first-rate boat, and the wiles of a coach who somehow found a way to, first, beat arch rival University of California, then conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world. A book that informs as it inspires (from Booklist). 


I got this one for Christmas and saved it until February when I knew that I would want an Olympics-themed read - even if it is set during the summer!


If you're wondering why Sochi isn't the safest place to hold an Olympics......
Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s final work—a gripping novella about the struggle between the Muslim Chechens and their inept occupiers—is a powerful moral fable for our time. Inspired by a historical figure Tolstoy heard about while serving in the Caucasus, this story brings to life the famed warrior Hadji Murat, a Chechen rebel who has fought fiercely and courageously against the Russian empire. After a feud with his commander he defects to the Russians, only to find that he is now trusted by neither side. He is first welcomed but then imprisoned by the Russians under suspicion of being a spy, and when he hears news of his wife and son held captive by the Chechens, Murat risks all to try to save his family. In the award-winning Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, Hadji Murat is a thrilling and provocative portrait of a tragic figure that has lost none of its relevance. 

I've meant to read this one for the longest time - some of Tolstoy's contemporaries considered this novella an even finer work than War and Peace - and it's certainly a smaller commitment in terms of reading time!

If the Opening Ceremonies were not enough......

Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes
Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg-a "window on the West"-and culminating with the challenges posed to Russian identity by the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself-its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. He skillfully interweaves the great works-by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall-with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, from food and drink to bathing habits to beliefs about the spirit world. Figes's characters range high and low: the revered Tolstoy, who left his deathbed to search for the Kingdom of God, as well as the serf girl Praskovya, who became Russian opera's first superstar and shocked society by becoming her owner's wife. Like the European-schooled countess Natasha performing an impromptu folk dance in Tolstoy's War and Peace, the spirit of "Russianness" is revealed by Figes as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory-a powerful force that unified a vast country and proved more lasting than any Russian ruler or state.

I read this years ago and dip back into it all the time - cultural history is the best kind of history because its so easy to relate to and yet is still strange and unexpected.  

And because all this Olympic watching and reading will make you hungry..........
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR—a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning. Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy—and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return. Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience—turning Larisa’s kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories.”
 

I just started this one but it's already intriguing - the first chapter is about dining in late Romanov Russia and the food descriptions are to-die for!

1 comment:

52booksorbust said...

Great list. I had never heard of the Tolstoy book, so will have to check it out. And Boys in the Boat has been on my list forever, maybe now is the time to read it. Thanks.

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