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The Ransom of Russian Art

by John McPhee

Buy the book: John McPhee. The Ransom of Russian Art

Release Date: 31 December, 1994

Edition: Hardcover

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Buy the book: John McPhee. The Ransom of Russian Art


Buff writing about emotion and tragedy

An eccentric American professor of economics, Norton Dodge, travels throughout the Soviet Union during the 1960s and '70s and into the '80s. He spends several million dollars on dissident art, smuggling it out of the country, in deep violation of Soviet law but not the US's. John McPhee reports on the story, after the fact, and includes vivid descriptions of the artists and their relationships with one another, Dodge and the Soviet state. The Soviet state, of course, is the hulking force behind the story, responsible for making the artists dissidents and causing various among them, from time to time, to disappear or die. So McPhee asks Dodge how he managed to assemble the collection. Was Dodge a representative of the KGB? the CIA? McPhee defers to Dodge's explanations, but McPhee's recounting of his conversation with Dodge about CIA involvement in the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies may engender in the imagination of some readers a hint of the suspicion and paranoia that suffused the culture that originally created the art. About Norton Dodge and his collection (now housed at Rutgers University), the poet Konstantin Kuzminsky says, "Norton thinks art is international. I insist it's purely national." "Americans are afraid of everything which causes too much emotion and tragedy. That is the problem between East and West." Which suggests the gulfs in passion and experience separating this story of Russian art from the trig completeness suggested by McPhee's prose.

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