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Three questions about the new podcast Schandaal en Controverse in de Russische literatuur

Russian literature is awash with disputes, riots and intense political debates. In the new Dutch podcast Schandaal en Controverse in de Russische literatuur, senior lecturer Otto Boele and film maker and journalist Kay Mastenbroek discuss the most talked-about Russian books published in the past two centuries.

Why did you decide to create this podcast?

‘It was Kay’s idea. He said: “I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I never read books”. And then I thought, why not try making a podcast? Over the years, I’ve stumbled across all kinds of crazy stories and scandals in Russian literature that can easily be grouped together within a single theme.

This approach has meant that we haven’t had to limit ourselves to the standard story. For example, instead of discussing the conservative Dostoevsky, we talk about his great adversary, the champion of the Russian left: Chernishevsky. So, we talk about literature, but you also get to revisit history from a different perspective; after all, in Russia, literature is about so much more than just literature. Given the lack of a free press, literary texts were often a springboard for a much broader debate on the future of Russia. That was driven by writers, but also by other players in society.’

While you were wrapping up the podcast, Russia invaded Ukraine. How does the podcast relate to current events?

‘It’s a difficult time to casually celebrate Russian literature without criticism. That’s why we delayed the launch of the podcast for a while after the invasion of Ukraine. We also added a short topical segment to the last episode, because it’s about a novel published in 2011 that, in retrospect, you could say was almost prophetic. It didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, but it did predict the rise of ugly nationalism that we are seeing now.

And the love-hate relationship between Russia and the West features in about half of the episodes. We all have our own ideas about this contradiction, but the scandals illustrate how it has evolved. What were the arguments for Russia to pursue a separate path or, conversely, to move closer to Europe?’

Do you have a favourite episode?

‘I think the episode about Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata is the most fascinating one. You can hear the composition that the novel is about, and the episode has exactly the right balance between male and female voice actors, who engage in a heated debate. And, on top of that, the story is also about a crime passionnel.’

You can listen to the episodes of Schandaal en Controverse in de Russische literatuur via this website or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

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