In This Review

To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture
To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture
By Eleonory Gilburd
480 pp, Belknap Press, 2018

In 1957, after decades of Stalin’s terror, when contacts with foreigners, real or imagined, were treated as high treason, Moscow hosted the Sixth International Youth Festival. As related by Gilburd’s rich history of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s cultural opening to the West, the festival brought about two weeks of unceasing communal elation, as young Soviet men and women passionately bonded with peers from all over the world: wandering about Moscow, dancing, singing, forging friendships, making love. Unlike earlier attempts at westernization, the one initiated by Khrushchev’s “thaw” reached beyond Soviet elites to include the masses. French pop music played on the radio, Italian films appeared in movie theaters, and the “domesticating” approach to literary translation made Western novels part of Soviet culture—and even Soviet life. But as this stream of Western culture flowed into the Soviet Union, the state’s borders remained closed, and foreign travel, heavily restricted. The Soviet people became infatuated with a mythical West. Later, many experienced the reality of the West firsthand either as immigrants or when post-Soviet Russia sought to more fully embrace Western ways and norms—and then they came to believe they had been wronged. What they felt was more than disillusionment, Gilburd writes: it was dispossession.