Oleg Atbashian's Hotel USSR

Oleg Atbashian, creator of the fabulous satire site The Peoples Cube.com, has written an illustrated autobiographical book about his life in the USSR, before he was able to immigrate to the U.S.  It's called Hotel USSR and would be a great gift to Bernie Bots and those deluded youngsters who think they'd like to live under socialism.

Having worked in the old USSR in the 1980s taking depositions for the Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations, I can attest to the accuracy of his account.  I laughed at his tale of hard pressed members of the Artists Union having continually to paint new medals on the portraits of Brezhnev.  (I remember taking a deposition in L'vov and trying not to laugh when I looked up at the portrait of Brezhnev in the procurator's office.  They'd run out of space to paint on the latest medal and simply painted it on a scrap of canvas, which they affixed to the painting.)

The book is hardly amusing, though, detailing the daily hardships and constrictions ordinary people lived through – poor, substandard medical care; inability to get basic foodstuffs; unspeakable sanitation and housing.  Art supplies and typewriters and typing paper were available only under carefully controlled conditions.  (I recall that three or four levels of supervisors were needed to approve each typewritten page and photocopy and every page that was recorded while I worked there.)

The state made it nearly impossible for any form of literature or art to be created outside the strictures of party propaganda.  Oleg even talks of the shock Soviet immigrants suffered upon entering a U.S. supermarket with all the varied offerings and abundance.  (Even a few weeks in the USSR, and I couldn't bear to enter one for weeks after my return – the contrast was so unnerving.  It was, as he notes, like visiting "an alien planet.") 

On the other hand, Oleg is correct when he recounts his failed efforts to obtain any New York art gallery willing to display a fellow émigré's fine work in a world where "[a]ll the art was depressingly ugly with occasional leftist flair."

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