This year, the Los Angeles Lit Crawl — one of the city’s most significant literary events — fell on October 25, the exact centenary of the October Revolution according to the old Julian calendar. That may have been a coincidence, but the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) has seized the opportunity, making “Revolution” the theme of its August 2017 issue.
For most Americans, this historic anniversary will likely pass unnoticed, despite the country’s very real apprehensions about Vladimir Putin’s regime and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Such is the selective focus of the average news consumer.
But for many Soviet and post-Soviet immigrants — both in California and around the world — that day 100 years ago was the catalyst for a winding chain of events that precipitated their emigration.
One such immigrant is Boris Dralyuk, LARB’s resident lyrical soul, a capable interpreter of seemingly ineffable Russian literary voices, and a frequent contributor to The Odessa Review. For LARB’s LitCrawl evening, Dralyuk chose to read translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s “Night.—Northeaster” and Mikhail Gerasimov’s “Iron Flowers.” Both poems were included in his 2016 collection 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution, published by Pushkin Press just in time for the revolution’s anniversary. Even for readers unfamiliar with this literary period, the turmoil, feverish excitement and gathering darkness of the October Revolution comes through clear and crisp in these poetic translations.
Other readings that night, as well as selections in the LARB’s new issue, were less on the nose, offering a kaleidoscope of views on the meaning of revolution: the naive rebellions of children and teenagers; protagonists at the brink of finally defending their beliefs, even at the cost of great personal upheaval; and reflections on historic revolutionary events experienced firsthand. Revolutions — whether societal or personal — are always traumatic, and these writers did not shy away from that. But revolutions also represent the hope of arriving at a new, better state.
Interestingly, the word revolution does not actually signify permanent linear change — as evolution or provolution could, for example. Instead, it describes a cyclical motion, like the movement of the heavenly spheres. As a result, it seems to indicate that any change will inevitably be followed by its eventual reversal. Round and round we go.
That may be an accurate description of history’s natural course, but it is a poor consolation to those living through revolutions and their aftermath. The excitement of changing the world order appears merely an ephemeral fantasy. And yet, change does happen, both through our efforts and in spite of them.
Today, in our “post-everything world,” very little can feel like a complete overturn of entrenched beliefs. We now live in a state of increasingly wonder-less technological and social change. Today’s revolutions are seldom the result of ideologies colliding. Rather, they are bloodshed brought about when a nation is re-carved by predators fighting among themselves. The romance appears to have gone from the revolutionary aesthetic — although perhaps it should never have been attached to something that has cost so many lives, both literally and spiritually.
Regardless, for those whose daily realities, even now, are significantly affected by these distant events, it is an especially poignant moment to look back, take stock of the tumultuous past century, and look forward with a deeper gratitude.