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Living Pictures

Living Pictures

by Polina Barskova, translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela, introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky

Regular price $17.95
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October selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club

Living Pictures refers to the parlor game of tableaux vivants, in which people dress up in costume to bring scenes from history back to life. It’s a game about survival, in a sense, and what it means to be a survivor is the question that Polina Barskova explores in the scintillating literary amalgam of Living Pictures. Barskova, one of the most admired and controversial figures in a new generation of Russian writers, first made her name as a poet; she is also known as a scholar of the catastrophic siege of Leningrad in World War II. In Living Pictures, Barskova writes with caustic humor and wild invention about traumas past and present, historical and autobiographical, exploring how we cope with experiences that defy comprehension. She writes about her relationships with her adoptive father and her birth father; about sex, wanted and unwanted; about the death of a lover; about Turner and Picasso; and, in the final piece, she mines the historical record in a chamber drama about two lovers sheltering in the Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad who slowly, operatically, hopelessly, stage their own deaths.

Living Pictures introduces a startlingly daring and original new voice from world literature.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376592
Pages: 192
Publication Date:


Set in places as diverse as San Francisco, small-town Massachusetts, Siberia, and (of course) Leningrad–Petersburg, these stories come forward as searchingly intimate and by turns tender, sensuous, macabre, absurd, ambivalent, yet always immensely and movingly vulnerable.
—Anna Razumnaya, Meduza

A category-defying amalgam of memoir, history, criticism and fiction, it is a twenty-first- century descendant of Osip Mandelstam’s sui generis autobiography The Noise of Time (1925). . . . Barskova is a poetic virtuoso, and she puts her formidable gifts in service of this task.
—Clare Cavanagh, TLS

As narrator and guide. . .Barskova makes the unprocessed grief come alive. She spins it into non-narrative and non-linear poems and prose, a pastiche which mimics the very nature of traumatic memory: disassociated and halting.
—Tanya Paperny, Literary Hub

Barskova’s arguments or presentations of history or biography tend to follow poetic logic, and her own biography and recollections rest atop the city’s tragedy.
—Sibelan Forrester, World Literature Today

A haunting and magnificent debut fiction collection. . . . This beautiful attempt to reconstruct the lives of the lost, blended with an account of a new life built from the rubble, deserves a wide readership.
Publishers Weekly starred review

These fractured poem-stories are composed of disjunctively arranged images, slices of memory both personal and historical, and a shadowy array of citations of varying levels of obscurity and recognizability, creating unique prose tissues that carve out a space for themselves in an ambiguous zone between critical essay, autobiography, poetry, and short fiction. What is unambiguous is their success: They are extraordinarily powerful works, at turns densely evocative and dizzyingly erudite, doing many of the best things that writing can do. Barskova, following the method of her poetry, manages by painstaking technique and sheer force of image to ponder herself considering the Siege and its survivors, drawing from life and art to represent an experience of personal trauma mediated by communication with history.
—Jack Rockwell, Full-Stop

A genre-bending story featuring memoir, art criticism, and the story of two lovers stuck in the Hermitage during the blockade
—Matt Janney, Calvert Journal

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

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