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Habitus - 2009

  • Subtitle: A Diaspora Journal
  • Issue Number: Number 5
  • Published Date: 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

This journal, by choosing a different international city with a substantial Jewish population for each issue, examines the effects of Jewish culture on its surroundings as well as its own evolution. In the Moscow issue, the brooding Russian presence digs deep into the Jewish cultural consciousness. Themes of loneliness, death, estrangement, emigration, and abandonment permeate much of the writing. However, hope and redemption also lurk. The journal itself is book-sized, with a brilliant night photograph of Moscow on the cover, and is less than 200 pages.

In the middle are sixteen color photographs of a sampling of Moscow citizens of different ages and walks of life; from beautiful, affluent women, to old men, to sassy youths, and distinguished-looking, formidable appearing citizens-at-large, all looking at the camera dead-on, as if they are looking straight at the reader. A series of seven short-shorts by Linor Goralik are exquisitely crafted whole works. Each piece, anywhere from one paragraph to slightly over a page in length makes a satisfying read, wrought with irony and existential terror.

At the back of the issue shines an illuminating interview with Jonathan Brent, director of Yale University Press. He reveals discoveries he made in the Stalin Archives, such as that Stalin was a brilliant reader and writer as well as a constant revisionist. He states that evidence shows Stalin to be in a sense a “rational person” carrying out the mission of the Soviet “system,” which he ironically did “for the good of the people” in a perverse way, that “the system was the monster.” His digging through these remarkable old papers gave him a unique view few of us can glimpse.

The editor, Joshua Ellison, gave the issue a reflective and revealing essay about his visit to Moscow. He states, “Everyone who writes about Moscow does so, in one way or another, as a stranger.” Moscow, he finds, is both a city of immigrants and a city coming into terms with its past: “there is still so much to say that could not be said before or could not be understood before.”

Like a ray of light, there’s a charming short story by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated into English, “…And Died on the Same Day.” It has predictable subject matter, an elderly woman and her husband, but the telling is the thing. The story of their deaths is also the tale of their love and devotion. Fairytale-like as it might seem, it has aspects that ring true in such a thrilling way that everyone might like to believe in it.

As one reads the poetry and stories, it seems easy to see that Muscovites could be anyone, or everyone. These works reveal their subjects’ psyches and set up intimacy. They do so with virtuosic imagination and deft clarity.

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Review Posted on February 14, 2010

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