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Witness to History: The Photographs of Yevgeny Khaldei
Biographical essay by Alexander and Alice Nakhimovsky. Aperture, New York, 1997. 96 pp.

by Robert Gordon ’50

Soon after the German capital, Berlin, fell to the Russian Army on May 2, 1945, a great photograph appeared: soldiers perched dizzyingly atop the shattered Reichstag, raising the red flag with hammer and sickle over the burning city. The picture, swiftly famous, was labelled only as released by Sovfoto.

Yet a man had put himself in danger taking that photo, a man who boasted afterwards of spending more than 1,400 continuous days with the Soviet forces. Yevgeny Khaldei recorded not only the fighting but also, postwar, the Potsdam Conference of Truman, Churchill and Stalin, then in 1946 the Nuremberg trials.

But the Soviets did not encourage public notice of Khaldei. Instead, regardless of his service to Russia’s cause, and to Stalin, he was discarded and retired. He was a Jew. Only rarely did he regain any freedom of movement, any permission to use his cameras again.

This changed only when, in rapid succession, the Soviet Union collapsed and Western Europe celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Ironically, Khaldei’s work had its first prominent exhibition in Germany in 1995. Suddenly the soldiers scaling the Reichstag reappeared, this time with the photographer’s name. Colgate’s Professors Alex-ander Nakhimovsky (computer sciences) and Alice Nakhimovsky (Russian) saw the pictures, read the news stories — and telephoned Moscow. The result was Khaldei’s first trip overseas, to Hamilton in October 1995. Delighted by the invitation and hospitality, he donated more than 90 photo-images to the Picker Gallery.

Khaldei returned to the United States in 1997, this time for museum shows in both New York and San Francisco — with an added side-trip to Colgate. He died in Moscow at 80 on October 6, 1997.

Fortunately this book preserves his achievement. This is largely owing to the Nakhimovskys, who have written an introductory biographical essay as well as chapter headings. The photographs are splendidly reproduced: look at Herman Goering with his lawyer, or on the pages following a devastated Nuremberg, where only a half-dozen tiny humans wander through unending ruins.

This book indeed marks an extraordinary witnessing of history.

Robert Gordon ’50, a freelance writer and retired teacher, moved to Hamilton four years ago.

Russian Talk
By Nancy Ries, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1997. 220 pp.

by Alice Nakhimovsky

Who can penetrate the depths of the Russian soul, full of contradiction and suffering (quite a bit of it self-inflicted)? For the three hundred or so years that the Russian soul has displayed itself on the world stage, elucidating its mysteries has been the task of artists, historians, and not a few journalists and philosophers. Now along comes Colgate’s assistant professor of sociology & anthropology Nancy Ries, who combines a strong background in Russian language and cultural history with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Like many contemporary anthropologists, she has used the theoretical tools of her profession to analyze the workings of a culture that is at once close to us and far away. Russian Talk, her prizewinning study already out in paperback, is the fruit of this approach.

Nancy’s subject is talk: the kinds of stories that Russians tell each other about their lives in relation to the world around them. All people, everywhere, make sense of their experience by talking about it, but the kind of sense they make varies from society to society. As Nancy notes, these particular national narratives become not only models of life as it has been lived, but models for life: a predictor of future patterns.

Nancy distinguishes several genres of Russian narratives, which, like fairy tales, are based on a set of repetitive formal elements. Among women’s urban tales, for example, are "heroic shopping tales" (in various guises, long-suffering grandma endures and emerges triumphant) and "spitting in the neighbor’s soup" tales (I’d rather you lose than I win). Among the "litanies" expounding Russian suffering are laments of "complete disintegration" in which the guilty party is Russia itself, as well as "populist" laments in which the villains are some kind of non-Russian outsiders; in a related category are political "saints’ lives."

As Nancy notes perceptively, the goal of these stories is not a call for action. Instead, they embody a certain "exhilaration": the teller has endured! Women’s "suffering" tales, like male "mischief" tales, are ways of resisting power, either by mocking it (mischief) or by turning it into a symbol of moral status.

Nancy’s research dates from 1989–1990: the bridge years of perestroika right before the collapse of the Soviet Union. What kind of stories are people telling now? A final chapter gives some hints (fewer laments). For a more detailed analysis, we await the next study. But in the meantime, get this book: if you are an old hand, it will give you the shock of recognition, if your interest is new, it will tell you what the past was about, and what to watch out for.

Alice Nakhimovsky is professor of Russian and department chair.

Song of the Refugee: A Message of Hope from Africa
A film produced by Glenn Ivers ’73

by Mary H. Moran

For the past 12 years, I have taught a semster-long course on Liberia as part of Colgate’s General Education/Core program. For eight of those 12 years, as Liberia slid deeper and deeper into civil war, chaos and self-inflicted violence, I have worried about the effect of this course on my students; was I only reinforcing their subconscious racism and tendency to see Africans as violently "tribal?" In spite of my efforts to explicate how the Liberian state dissolved and the role of U.S. Cold War foreign policy in that process, I felt that students were leaving my course depressed and without having made a connection with Liberians and other Africans as fellow human beings. Now, recent events both in Liberia and elsewhere on the continent have made the course a much more hopeful experience for myself and my students. Now, also, I have Glenn Ivers’ film Song of the Refugee to use in my class.

The film, a part of the PBS series Culture Studies and Beyond, is a beautiful account of the return of one particular refugee, the internationally known Ugandan musician Samite Mulondo, to the homeland he left in 1982. On his way home, Samite visits other war-weary nations like Liberia and Rwanda, searching for evidence that human beings can indeed survive the horrors of genocide with their sense of hope intact. Glenn Ivers, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia in the 1970s, has produced a moving and uplifting account that forcefully counters the conventional reporting on Africa as the world’s "basket case." In all three countries, people are shown rebuilding their communities, caring for each other, and looking to the future. Along with President Clinton’s recent tour of the continent, films like Song of the Refugee are important in forcing Americans to come to terms with the fact that Africans do not exist somewhere in a "tribal" past but share with us a contemporary world with an interconnected economy, widespread concerns about governmental power and myriad means of self-identification (including language, ethnicity and nationality). It is a lesson I hope my students in Core Liberia can carry with them into this interconnected global context.

Mary H. Moran is associate professor of anthropology