Friday, May 18, 2018

"Restless in LA" by Robin Finn - a kaleidoscope of first world problems

Greetings, commies!
As I am approaching my 40th birthday this summer, I cannot help but wonder what other middle-aged women are doing behind closed doors, especially those from a different socio-economic strata. Given that I am ridiculously happy in my marriage (after 20 years of being with the same man), I often wonder about the plight of "desperate housewives". Please consider reading Restless in LA. Do not be deceived by the flippant estrogen-loaded cover. It's a serious, often critical piece of women's fiction. 

It was an innocent online flirtation. Until it wasn't.

Alexandra Hoffman thinks she has it all together. She lives with her work-obsessed husband Jason and their three challenging children in upscale Los Angeles. She never meant to “friend” her old boyfriend, Matt Daniels. She hasn’t seen him in twenty years. But as Alex’s fortieth birthday approaches, she finds herself re-connecting with Matt online—and re-reading her college journal, which details their intense connection and unresolved ending. But Alex’s hands are full with the kids, one of whom she just can’t help, no matter how hard she tries.

Lonely and alienated by the helicopter moms, and from Jason who is never around, Alex’s flirtation quickly moves from on-line to real-world. Alex realizes—too late—that she cannot trust herself. When she meets Matt for dinner, the attraction is undeniable. And when he touches her face, it’s electric. As her life spirals out of control, she clings to her free-spirited life coach, Lark, to make sense of the mess she’s made. But Lark’s advice is clear: Alex must confront her past and find the courage to face her future, even if it means risking everything. 

My thoughts:
I derived sadistic pleasure out of this novel. The main character/narrator is exactly the type of person I like to ridicule with my immigrant friends over shots of vodka. You know the type: a neurotic, vapid LA housewife with her minivan, yoga classes, anxiety pills, a whiny anonymous blog, a hippie life coach and a string of overbooked, overdiagnosed, overmedicated children. Alexandra Hoffman is an iconic figure from one of those "Real Housewives" shows. She is the kind of woman that squeamishly winces when she hears an accent, but then she wrings her hands and whimpers when ostracized by the women of her social class due to her son's behavior issues. (I guess she expects a medal for driving her kids to activities and therapies.) I know the type, because we have so many of those on the East Coast. And if you are a hard-working, self-servicing, meant-and-potatoes first generation American mama like myself, you will have little sympathy for the likes of Alexandra Hoffman. And yet, you will find yourself sympathizing with her at times. You see, even she gets those moments of lucidity when she becomes painfully aware of the vapidness of her own existence, of the fact that her "skinny fat" body is aging and her parenting efforts are not paying off. Beneath all that California flakiness and suburban ennui, there is a redeemable human being - even if that redemption comes in the form of an affair with an old boyfriend. "Restless in LA" is a brilliant piece of chick lit that will stir a wide range of feelings, from gloating contempt to compassion.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Demoted: a Cormac McCarthy take on WWII

Greetings, commies!
If you are looking for an amazing idol-crashing, cliche-defying WWII film, do not miss an unfairly obscure film Demoted. It raises so many moral questions about the value of individual life and pledge of obedience. 

1943. A young platoon commander refuses to follow an order of frontal attack; he doesn't want to send his soldiers against the enemy machine-guns and get them killed. A battalion commander rips off his shoulder straps and sends him to the military tribunal. But the war is everywhere and the demoted officer and his escorts have to start an unequal fight with the enemy. 

My thoughts:
My husband and I have watched every WWII movie under the sun, of variable qualities, so it's a problem to find new films to quench our insatiable addiction. Imagine how thrilled we were to find this relatively obscure gem (thank you, Amazon Prime). I was totally blown away by the dour candor of the film, a quality that I, a cynic and misanthrope, can appreciate. The film explores the ugly and the depraved aspects of military life, the stuff you would not find in Soviet era textbooks. It touches upon such taboo subjects as desertion, incompetence, corruption, mental illness and cannibalism. Yes, you got that right. People eating people. Something you wouldn't see in Soviet produced films spanning 1940-1980s. This atmosphere in this movie reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's writing: surreal, nightmarish, apocalyptic, claustrophobic. Imagine "The Road" taking place in snow-clad Russia in 1943. 

I don't know how to put this nicely, but ... try taking your SATs after a lobotomy. That pretty much describes the former Soviet Union's readiness for an armed conflict with Hitler's Germany. Given that the best generals had been killed off by Stalin, the Soviet army was in a state of bewilderment. Confused commanders giving confusing orders. Soldiers dying right and left without any purpose. If you were a soldier, you were screwed either way. Either you get shot by the enemy, or you get shot by your own "brilliant" commanders for insubordination. And if you are a student in the late Soviet era school system, you get crucified by your teachers for questioning the competence and heroism of the Soviet leaders. For me, as a natural dissenter, it was hard to sit through those patriotic, propaganda-loaded flicks featuring humorous, shrewd, abnegating boyish soldiers who died on the battlefield humming folk tunes - think "Only Old Men Are Going to Battle". On some instinctive level I felt that the reality of the Soviet experience was a lot grimmer than the campy ensemble of boy heroes. Fortunately, 30+ years later, we are free to reexamine the past and reevaluate the idols. Brutal, unembellished, unpalatable realism is replacing the patriotic propaganda in war cinema. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Saltykov's widow: the mother of all sadistic bosses

Salutations, commies!

Raise your hands if you have a horror story about a tyrannical female boss. Don't be shy. This commie won't tell on you, as she has horror stories of her own. You know what I'm talking about. That ice-and-estrogen queen whose glance makes your stomach ulcer bleed. The stuff of Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Sure, Hollywood can turn those stories into dark comedies. It's entertaining to watch them on screen. However, standing in front of a boss like that is not so funny. Here is a piece of history to make you feel better and hopefully give you some perspective. We Russians have a special title for such bosses "Saltychiha", translated as Saltykov's widow. 

Darya Saltykov (1730-1801), née Ivanova, was a Russian aristocrat, a notorious sadist and serial killer who had tortured and killed over a hundred of her serfs, mostly young woman. Historians compare her to the earlier Hungarian "Blood Countess" Elizabeth Bathory. 

Strangely enough, her early years did not foreshadow any travesties. Before marriage she was a reclusive, deeply religious girl who had toyed with the idea of entering a convent. Her father, however, had different plans for her. He married her off to Gleb Saltykov, a prominent aristocrat. On the surface, the marriage was stable and functional. Darya Saltykova was perceived as the embodiment of social propriety and moral virtue. The golden couple had two sons, Theodore and Nicholas. 

However, after her husband's death, the 26 year old widow started showing sadistic inclinations. Nobody really knows what triggered the switch in her psyche, pushing her to acts of unspeakable cruelty. Her rural estate became a torture camp. Darya inflicted the cruelest of punishments for the slightest of transgressions. Endowed with impressive physical strength, she would beat her servants until death, using her favorite tool: a block of firewood. When exhausted, she would delegate the job to one of her house guards. Several of her servants had been flogged to the point of exsanguination. Other, more elaborate methods, included pouring boiling water over her victims or tying them up naked to a tree in the middle of winter. 

Many complaints about the atrocities on her estate were ignored. The petitioners were punished for snitching. Darya Saltykova was chummy with the authorities, who looked the other way. Eventually, a few relatives of the murdered serfs went straight to Empress Catherine II. As reluctant as Catherine was to quarrel with a prominent noblewoman, she felt like she had to take action. After a long and tedious investigation, Darya Saltykova was found guilty of 38 murders (the real number exceeds 100).

Since death sentence was abolished in Russia, Madame Saltykova was sentences to life in prison in the cellar of the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow, "without daylight or human contact". Being incredibly healthy, the murderous noblewoman had lasted 30 years, having outlived the Empress. 

There is an impressive Russian series called "The Bloody Mistress". Unfortunately, it not available with English subtitles yet. But do not despair. One day the series will be available to the English speaking audiences. 

Next time you feel like complaining about your boss, think of the 100+ serfs tortured to death by Saltykov's widow. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Triumph of a Czar - a stellar alternative history about the Romanovs

Greetings, commies!
I came across this gem by reading a discussion in the Historical Novel Society. If you love alternative history along the lines of The Man in the High Castle, do not miss Triumph of a Czar

Triumph of a Tsar is a work of alternate historical fiction in which the Russian Revolution is averted, and the hemophiliac Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II, comes to the throne. In August, 1920, sixteen-year-old Alexei is enjoying his birthday celebrations when Nicholas dies suddenly. Overnight, Alexei becomes tsar of an empire that covers one-sixth of the world’s landmass. The Great War is over, but Russia is still suffering from the devastation and poverty that it brought. Communists such as Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky view the political situation as ripe for revolution, but they realize that the popular Alexei stands in their way. To make matters worse, Alexei’s hemophilia, the disease that has threatened him his whole life, returns to haunt him. With his life in constant danger from internal threats, Alexei must also navigate the external threats of fascism and Adolph Hitler. Slowly, Hitler’s menace increases throughout Europe until he tries to kill Alexei himself. Only then does Alexei realize that another World War is the only way to stop his German enemy.

My thoughts:
The October Revolution is regarded by many as one of the greatest tragedies in Russian history, and the murder of the imperial family one of the cruelest regicides. (Growing up in the 1980s in what is now the former USSR I was told the opposite - that it was an act of justice). Tamar Anolic creates a gorgeous, eloquent, convincing revenge fantasy.  I am so grateful for this novel, because it fills a gap in the pantheon of alternative history. My husband and I are both into alternative history and have often discussed the various what-if scenarios. What if the Russian Revolution never occurred? Or what if the Whites had won the Russian Civil War? I am so glad that someone has finally written an alternative history novel about post WWI Russia. Czar Nicholas II is given a dignified natural death. His beautiful daughters go on to marry and have offspring of their own. And his son Alexei, the fragile hemophiliac child so coddled by his mother becomes the next Czar at the age of 16. The first thing he does is shoot Lenin and fire the chief of police for negligence. His actions may seem shocking and impetuous, but they really make a lot of sense. The teenage monarch certainly does not pull any punches. He is more prepared to roll up his sleeves and embrace his new role. His determination to serve his empire and bring it on par with other Western European nations often makes him forget about his own illness. At times he tries to downplay the severity of his affliction. At any given moment, he is one cut or bump away from bleeding to death. So he cannot afford to be impetuous. His illness has taught him self-restraint. On one hand Alexei had been coddled his whole life, but on another hand he had been forced to mature faster. It's a two edged sword. It is common for people who are used to deal with a life-altering illness. 

I am very, very finicky about historical accuracy and cultural authenticity. I've read too many novels and seen too many movies depicting a cartoonish cardboard Russia speckled with cliches, and this novel definitely gets my stamp of approval.  So many authors think it's enough to throw in references to bears, balalaikas, samovars and ushanka hats to create a sense of authenticity. Thankfully, this author does not resort to that. He does not need to rely on cliches. His knowledge of the era shines through his sharp, eloquent prose. For an alternative history novel to be effective, it has to be rooted in reality. The author has to be a political scientist and a military strategist. I cannot believe that this gem was not picked up by some major publisher like Random House. I would love to see it turned into an Amazon series. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Help young journalist fight cancer


This is the first time I post about helping a fellow Commie, a young journalist. Christina is a beautiful and talented woman who is battling stage 3 sarcoma. She is undergoing treatment in Moscow. If you are so inclined, please share this post and/or support her treatment.

This is her story:

Christina is a vibrant young girl, she is a journalist for a popular youth magazine in Central Asia ( Kyrgyzstan)
Her passion is ballroom dancing and she has won numerous awards and competitions.

Christina is a smart, positive young lady that has been recently diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.

Unfortunately, Christina lost her mother when she was just 17 and the only family she has is her stepfather that has left his job in Israel and rushed to be by her side. The doctors are optimistic and currently put her chances of survival at 80%. However, after the first set of chemotherapy she is very weak and is currently in intensive care.
The treatment is very expensive and has cost the family £20,000 so far.
Her stepfather has used up his savings and we are relying on support to get her the treatment she so desperately needs.
Please find it in your heart to help this young beautiful lady survive and live a full life that she deserves.
She is currently being treated in Yusupov Hospital in Moscow.
The money is needed for a second set of chemotherapy followed by an operation to remove the tumour.
Without your help she will not be operated on.
Thank you for your kindness.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Popular Stud Syndrome - why it is a systemic problem

Greetings, commies!

Today's rant topic is the infamous Popular Stud Syndrome. Did I get your attention? This term is NOT from a teen sex comedy or the National Lampoon. It was NOT coined by a 20-something gender-fluid Huffington Post freelance contributor fighting the "rape culture". Though it sounds patriarchal and vaguely pornographic, the Popular Stud Syndrome refers to a phenomenon in the world of breeders when an animal with desirable attributes is bred repeatedly. As a Siberian cat breeder with several years of experience under my belt, I have encountered several sought after studs, winners of respected competitions, who juggled the limelight of the show hall with the seductive twilight of the conjugal area. Some particularly desirable studs are bred extensively to many females, creating a large population of half-siblings, thus reducing the genetic diversity of the breed. Also, some undesirable genetic traits in the stud can spread rapidly. If unchecked, certain health conditions such as heart defects or propensity for cancer can be passed along. Sometimes, by the time you discover a genetic defect in a sought after stud, it's too late. Too many babies have been fathered.

With my Long Island market dwindling due to my partner's recent decision to move to Switzerland for work, I am toiling aggressively to build my network in New England. It is March, and my little stud Rory, a ginger Donald Trump look alike who has fathered to date forty-five kittens to to six different females, is feeling the sting of sexual frustration. Major, major pussy withdrawal. So you can imagine how excited I was to get in touch with a breeder in Boston. To our mutual dismay, it was discovered that most of her breeding females were related to Rory through a grandfather. While breeding with first and second cousins is acceptable, it is not desirable. It is a real problem in New England to find Siberians who are not closely to each other, whose inbreeding percentage is under 10%. More and more breeders import studs and dames from Europe to ensure a more diverse gene pool.
Overbreeding of select males nurtures elitism and exploitation. Every day gorgeous male animals are being objectified for their looks and exploited for their genetic traits.Too many back to back conjugal visits exhaust a male, leading to sexual burnout, anemia, hair loss, urinary tract infections, groin injuries and testosterone poisoning. These magnificent creatures who talk to St. Francis are reduced to carnal sex machines.

I know how tempting it is to be able to say: "My kittens were fathered by a world champion so-and-so (fill in the blank." But there is a dark side to prestige. As much as you want to stick to the proven classics, diversity is a beautiful thing! I encourage my breeder friends to go to shows, build new relationships and discover new emerging lines for their breeding programs.

Conservatively yours,
Connecticut Commie

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An average cat can be a tiger mom

Hello, commies and cat lovers!
Today is March 8th, the international women's solidarity day, and I would like to take this opportunity to write a little ode to the cat woman who raised me, whose claws molded me into the creature I am today. Everyone is familiar with the term Tiger Mom. Most of them are of Asian descent. But there is another breed of tiger mom, more subtle but no less deadly: the Russian-Jewish Tiger Mom. I was honored and blessed to be raised by one of those. My mother is just an average size cat with a nuclear purrrsonality. This is NOT going to be a mushy post about "unconditional love" and "forgiveness". Screw that. This is what my Mommy taught.

She taught me to play with my food before ripping its head off
She taught me to fight with my fangs and claws out
She taught me to climb high altitudes without looking down
She taught me to mark my territory with my scent
She taught me to hiss and growl all over the neighborhood
She taught me to attack other females twice my size
She taught me to hide my injuries from my enemies
She taught me to lick my wounds in private
She taught me to pursue the high-ranking tomcat of my dreams
She taught me to bury the remnants of my enemies in the sandbox

Because of her, the word "sacrifice" is not in my vocabulary. Because of her, I put ideas and projects above meaningless relationships. Because of her I never walk away from a fight. Happy March 8th, Mama Cat!

Sincerely yours,
Connecticut Commie