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To See Paris and Die Reviews

To See Paris and Die by Eleonory Gilburd

To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture

Eleonory Gilburd

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1 review

Imprint: The Belknap Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 30 Nov 2018
ISBN: 9780674980716

After Stalin died a torrent of Western novels, films, and paintings invaded Soviet streets and homes. Soviet citizens invested these imports with political and personal significance, transforming them into intimate possessions. Eleonory Gilburd reveals how Western culture defined the last three decades of the Soviet Union, its death, and afterlife.

3 stars out of 5
28 Jul 2019

"Gilburd’s prose is at its liveliest and most evocative describing clamour and commotion"

While Gilburd’s prose is at its liveliest and most evocative describing clamour and commotion, as in the case of the Moscow Youth Festival and the Picasso exhibition, her chapters on the mechanics of cultural contact are tours de force... ‘Soviet and Western utopias disintegrated together,’ Gilburd concludes. That is one of the paradoxes of the situation she describes. The love affair with Western culture did not, as might first have appeared, involve a repudiation of Sovietness...To See Paris and Die is a highly personal book by a young US academic who is herself the child of Russian Jewish émigrés of the late Soviet period. (A disclaimer is in order here: in the 1990s, Gilburd studied with me as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where she now teaches Soviet history.) Her book has something of the same tone of Soviet/Communist nostalgia to be found in the film Goodbye Lenin! or the work of Svetlana Alexievich and the late Svetlana Boym. But it’s an interesting variant, in that the subject is not the Soviet Union itself but rather a vision of the West that collectively entranced several late Soviet generations. The underlying nostalgia is for whatever it was in Soviet society that made culture (including, but not only, Western culture) so important and fostered such strong collective emotions about it. Reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Soviet propagandists who laboured so hard and so long to make citizens fall in love with Soviet socialism. If only they had done a bit of reading in capitalist marketing theory and grasped the idea of the scarcity principle.