Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376592
Pages: 240
Publication Date: May 24, 2022

Living Pictures

by Polina Barskova, translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela

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An NYRB Classics Original

The prolonged German siege of Leningrad during the Second World War was among the most destructive sieges in history, leading to mass starvation and well over a million deaths. The contemporary Russian poet and scholar Polina Barskova, born in Leningrad, has done extensive research on the siege in archives in St. Petersburg, research that has borne fruit in Living Pictures, an extraordinary dramatization of life under the most extreme of circumstances. In the remarkable title piece of the collection, set in the winter of 1941 and 1942, Mosej and Antonina, a young couple who work in the Hermitage, refuse to take shelter underground, remaining instead in the grand galleries of the palatial museum. Their experience begins almost as a lark, as they recite poetry, perform tableaux vivants based on Rembrandt paintings, and retell the story of the Snow Queen. Inevitably, however, cold and hunger take over, and as they do the two characters fall silent, or rather, their imagined voices are replaced by documented voices of the siege, as if the reader had tuned into a ghostly radio channel. Living Pictures is an uncanny and poignant masterpiece in which Barskova brilliantly explores the vertiginous divide between individual suffering and recorded history.


A precise, tremendous and beautiful book.
—Maria Stepanova

Living Pictures is a highly poetic book about memories of a Soviet childhood and a reinvention in the USA, with interludes of a choir of voices from St. Petersburg. Polina Barskova’s prose elegantly joins all the genres to create a new narrative form.
—Christine Hamel, WDR

Living Pictures is . . . a richly woven book on art, artists, the conditions of their mutual pervasion in times of endurance.
—Jonis Hartmann, Fixpoetry