Anna Aslanyan

Digging deep into history

The year is 1963. A girl is walking around Stepney with a pack of index cards, visiting old residents in their dilapidated houses, drinking strong tea with tinned milk, listening to their stories of happy days past and looking at cracked walls and leaking roofs. As she promises them help on behalf of her employer,

Lost in a time capsule

On her arrival in Russia in 1914, Gerty Freely finds it refreshingly liberal compared to her native Britain: here servants are treated well, parents encourage self-expression in children, poor students are given support, and intellectual discourse flourishes. Gerty comes to Moscow as the governess to a rich aristocratic family and stays through the war, the

Revolution now and then

Maxim Gorky was trumpeted as ‘the great proletarian writer’ by Soviet critics, who considered his novel The Mother one of the most significant books of the 20th century. Completed in 1906, after Gorky had already been recognised internationally, it is based on the events of 1902, when the workers of Sormovo, a factory settlement near

Umberto Eco really tries our patience

Colonna, the protagonist of Umberto Eco’s latest novel, is the first to admit he is a loser. A middle-aged literary nègre, he dreams of writing his own book, but can’t break the habit of alluding to others’ work: he even refers to himself as a ‘man without qualities’. One day in 1992, he is commissioned

Hurricane Lolita

Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov’s nostalgic memoir, reflects on his life from the age of three to 41, taking us from early-20th-century Russia, soon to be engulfed by revolution, to Europe at the start of the second world war. He planned a sequel to it, based on his American years, but Speak On, Memory was never

Reality games

The title of Victor Pelevin’s 2011 novel stands for ‘Special Newsreel/Universal Feature Film’. This product is made by the narrator, who pilots his hi-tech camera without leaving his room, propped up against cushions. The corpulent Damilola Karpov lives in Byzantion, or Big Byz, an ‘offglobe’ hovering over what’s left of the old world after the