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2021 - Shortlisted
Russia Washed in Blood offers a grim but indispensable panorama of one of the 20th century’s terrible conflagrations. Its sprawling, chaotic and unfinished structure mirrors the streams and eddies of human suffering, devilry, picaresque and glee that it contains. Taking a human-level view of the disasters of the Russian Civil War, upheaval appears as a result neither of lucid ideology nor brilliant organisation. Instead, like few other works of literature, the acephalic quality of revolution is seen, with individuals glimpsed briefly trying to make their way through shifting sands.
The book, with its motley and sometimes amusing cast of soldiers and opportunists, countesses and Cossacks, serfs and nascent apparatchiks, ultimately cost author Artyom Vesyoly (‘the merry one’ in his ironic pseudonym, 1899–1938) his life in the Great Purge, for showing the revolution as cyclone rather than as heroic legend. This Herculean translation, by Kevin Windle with an introduction by Windle and Vesyoly’s daughter, Elena Govor, delivers the full impact of the work.