Igort’s UKRAINIAN AND RUSSIAN NOTEBOOKS made for a challenging read. It is so bleak, so full of violence, wickedness, bestiality, destruction, torture, amorality, sadism, and an endless string of other evil, indiscriminate and inhuman acts of this same range of experience and emotion, that l could only read it in instalments, leaving it for some days and then forcing myself to come back and gradually finish it. A nec plus ultra in the ‘chernukha‘ genre.
The UKRAINIAN AND RUSSIAN NOTEBOOKS are nothing like Igort’s other work available in English, the JAPANESE NOTEBOOKS. In his treatise on Japan he talks of many different dimensions of Japanese life and culture, including Japanese cinema and the all-important manga tradition. He talks of Hiyao Miyazaki and Mishima, alongside condemning the murderous inhumanity of Japanese expansionism of WWII and their propaganda machine. But no culture nor artists nor cinema is mentioned anywhere in the Ukrainian/Russian notebooks (besides Anna Politkovskaya’s work and legacy) — it is all one continuous and endless saga of squalor, oppression, cruelty, and barbarism — with no end in sight, going as far back as the times of the Bolshevik revolution and coming to as recently to the Ukrainian war in 2014 and its aftermath.
Igort is a solitary and idiosyncratic cultural commentator from Italy, whose work l have come to admire and respect. I believe the book, put out in English by Simon and Schuster in 2016, should be read and used by those who teach on the former Soviet Union, alongside Timothy Snider’s BLOODLANDS (2011). Whilst navigating through this graphic novel, l could not help remembering the Soviet-themed book by another great Italian commentator, journalist Tiziano Terzani, whose 1991 GOODNIGHT MISTER LENIN also chronicles many of the inhuman aspects of the dissolving Soviet empire. Terzani also has next to nothing good to say, and depicts Russia’s Far East as inhabited by callous and numbed individuals, deprived of basic aesthetic sensitivity and suffering of massive moral shortcomings. I cannot help noticing that both Terzani and Igort are Italian. Could it be that this is how cultural types/cultural stereotypes work in reality?
And whilst Igort himself may not have referenced any films in the book, l could not help but think of many — like Aleksei Balabanov’s shattering CARGO 200 (2007) and, with its referencing of the 1930s devious role of NYT’s Moscow-based correspondent, Walter Duranty, of Agnieszka Holland’s MR JONES (2019), which chronicles the suppression of journalistic evidence at the time the Ukrainian famine, denied and actively covered-up by international media.