Gilburd, Eleonory. To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018. vii + 458 pages. Hardcover, $35.00.
In Eleonory Gilburd's most recent book, To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture, readers are treated to an examination of Western cultural imports influence on a closed Soviet society and their diverse reception. Not limiting herself to any particular field, Gilburd, a well-respected Soviet historian, covers a wide range of the arts, including films, paintings, books, and even language itself--investigating nearly every cultural import into the Soviet Union from the Western world. While focusing primarily on 1950 till 1960, a period commonly referred to as the "thaw," Gilburd does occasionally stretch to other eras during the Cold War to identify particularly significant cultural items. Throughout the book, Gilburd contends that the cultural imports from the Western world into the Soviet Union--while at first often a sensory shock--regularly intermixed into the overall tapestry of Soviet culture to the point that art, movies, books, and so forth were frequently seen as a Soviet possession.
Moving from topic to topic, Gilburd's allotment of a chapter to each cultural medium is both, simultaneously, a strength and a weakness of the book. Overall, the author's knowledge of every subject is beyond question, making the shift between cultural mediums almost seamless. Gilburd demonstrates an excellent fundamental grasp of every subject whether it is through her analysis of influential Western books in Soviet culture or the discussion of modernist paintings and how they impacted Soviet museum attendees in the capitol city of Moscow. The drawback from this chapter by chapter shift, however, is that there are instances where, in an apparent effort to move to the next subject, potential topics are left unrealized to the reader.
A primary example of the aforementioned issue can be seen in the sixth chapter, wherein Gilburd examines the cultural impact of tourism once it was opened up (albeit...