ABOUT THIS BOOK
A Foreign Affairs Best Book of the Year
Winner of the AATSEEL Prize for Best Book in Cultural Studies
Winner of the Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies
Winner of the Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize
Winner of the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize
The Soviet Union was a notoriously closed society until Stalin’s death in 1953. Then, in the mid-1950s, a torrent of Western novels, films, and paintings invaded Soviet streets and homes, acquiring heightened emotional significance. To See Paris and Die is a history of this momentous opening to the West.
At the heart of this history is a process of translation, in which Western figures took on Soviet roles: Pablo Picasso as a political rabble-rouser; Rockwell Kent as a quintessential American painter; Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway as teachers of love and courage under fire; J. D. Salinger and Giuseppe De Santis as saviors from Soviet clichés. Imported novels challenged fundamental tenets of Soviet ethics, while modernist paintings tested deep-seated notions of culture. Western films were eroticized even before viewers took their seats. The drama of cultural exchange and translation encompassed discovery as well as loss.
Eleonory Gilburd explores the pleasure, longing, humiliation, and anger that Soviet citizens felt as they found themselves in the midst of this cross-cultural encounter. The main protagonists of To See Paris and Die are small-town teachers daydreaming of faraway places, college students vicariously discovering a wider world, and factory engineers striving for self-improvement. They invested Western imports with political and personal significance, transforming foreign texts into intimate belongings.
With the end of the Soviet Union, the Soviet West disappeared from the cultural map. Gilburd’s history reveals how domesticated Western imports defined the last three decades of the Soviet Union, as well as its death and afterlife.
Traces the officially sanctioned channels through which Western books, paintings, films, and songs reached a mass audience, and the varied and surprising stories of how they were appropriated and transformed for a Soviet setting…Gilburd’s book restores meaning and value to the detritus of the Thaw. She brings into view the individuals who gave Western culture its Soviet lives…Her writing magnificently combines scholarly sophistication with insight and sympathy.
-- Rachel Polonsky New York Review of Books
To See Paris and Die is, at its core, a well-researched historical study of the process of distortion. By tracing the Soviet afterlives of Western art, Gilburd gestures toward a larger narrative, one that lays bare the processes by which we create myths about other parts of the world in order to understand our place within it…Offers a glimpse into a side of the Soviet Union that’s often given short shrift in our cultural memory: its incredibly international orientation.
-- Jennifer Wilson New Republic
Engaging…Gilburd’s book is far more than a catalogue of cultural dissemination. It captures how people reacted to what they witnessed, from outrage at bared flesh in Western movies to awe at blockbuster exhibitions of Picasso and Rockwell Kent…Succeeds eloquently in conveying just how Soviet citizens reacted to ‘the shock of the new.’
-- Catriona Kelly Times Literary Supplement
Fascinating…Succeeds in presenting another Soviet Union, one ‘suffused with non-Soviet things, films, sounds, and stories,’ which, as much as any high politics, shaped the way citizens understood the west, their rulers, and themselves.
-- Harry Robertson Financial Times
While Gilburd’s prose is at its liveliest and most evocative describing clamor 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.
-- Sheila Fitzpatrick London Review of Books
Gilburd reveals the extensive Soviet cultural appropriation of Western arts, music, books and cinema during the 1950s and 1960s…One of the most delightful aspects of this history is her focus on the reception Western works received among Soviet audiences.
-- Kristen R. Ghodsee Times Higher Education
A tour de force by a historian working at the top of her craft. By showing how Western culture was transmitted to and transformed by Soviet audiences, Gilburd has made an impressive contribution to our understanding not only of late Soviet history but of European history broadly.
-- Stephen V. Bittner, author of The Many Lives of Khrushchev’s Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow’s Arbat
This highly original and readable work is sweeping in its breadth and depth. Gilburd covers a wide range of Western culture—literature, travelogues, art, film, music, theater—and chronicles Soviet reactions to it. Her treatment includes, among other things, the organization of cultural exchange, the distribution of books and films, and the role of Soviet authority figures in mediating the dissemination of Western works.
-- Katerina Clark, author of Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931–1941
A captivating, sensual portrait of late Soviet emotional life. Eleonory Gilburd describes how Soviets dreamed their way into another world—the magical, beautiful ‘West.’ Unfortunately, the real West turned out to be a bitter disappointment.
-- Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters
In a brilliantly written and deeply researched narrative, Gilburd captures the tension between the Thaw’s openness to cultural influences from the West—through art exhibitions; youth, peace, and film festivals; world literature; and increasing tourism—and the simultaneous need to ‘translate’ and render them Soviet.
-- David Shneer, author of Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust
How and why did Western culture enter the Soviet Union, and what meanings did it accrue for Soviet translators, spectators, and readers? To See Paris and Die explores these questions in new and powerful ways. It will make a signal intervention into the fields of Soviet, Cold War, and translation studies.
-- Jochen Hellbeck, author of Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich
This impressive and important work forces us to consider how really existing socialism came to construct the West as an alternative utopia.
-- Michael David-Fox Journal of Modern History