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Reading: Sophie Pinkham

David Locke Hall
Sophie Pinkham

Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine

Monday, November 28 at 7:00pm
A distinctive writer’s fascinating journey into the heart of a troubled region.

Ukraine has rebuilt itself over and over again in the last century, plagued by the same conflicts: corruption, poverty, substance abuse, ethnic clashes, and Russian aggression. Sophie Pinkham saw all this and more in the course of ten years working, traveling, and reporting in Ukraine and Russia, over a period that included the Maidan revolution of 2013–14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.

With a keen eye for the dark absurdities of post-Soviet society, Pinkham presents a dynamic account of contemporary Ukrainian life. She meets―among others―a charismatic doctor helping to smooth the transition to democracy even as he struggles with his own drug addiction, a Bolano-esque art gallerist prone to public nudity, and a Russian Jewish clarinetist agitating for Ukrainian liberation. These fascinating personalities, rendered in a bold, original style, deliver an indelible impression of a country on the brink.

Black Square is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to learn not only the political roots of the current conflict in Ukraine but also the personal stories of the people who live it every day.


“Essential reading. What makes Black Square superb, to my mind, is Pinkham’s keen eye for the dark comedy and tragedy that mark so many of her subjects. Her portraits of individual Ukrainians and Russians are as rich and nuanced as her synthesis of their national histories and politics. The result is a book whose literary achievement will outlast its timeliness.” — Anthony Marra

“Black Square is as elegant, suggestive, ominous, beautiful, and deceptively simple as, well, a black square. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the sheer number and diversity of people Sophie Pinkham has spoken to is how deftly she has woven their stories into a single compulsively readable narrative.” — Elif Batuman

“Sophie Pinkham is a wry, erudite observer of human foibles, political illusions, and funny hats. In Ukraine and its complex and tragic confrontation with Russia (and itself), she has found the perfect subject. Anyone who wants an explanation of Ukraine’s recent history that goes beyond Kremlin propaganda and Western media oversimplification should read this book.” — Keith Gessen

“An empathetic and deeply humanizing look at troubled times and dangerous, revolutionary days.” — Peter Pomerantzev

“Black Square is a sharp-eyed portrait of Ukraine in post-Soviet times—funny and moving, sad and slyly ironic by turns. It’s especially valuable in helping us to understand the deeper origins of the Maidan movement, and to see how the painful divisions running through Ukraine today have played out in everyday life. With a combination of sympathy and skeptical wit, Pinkham shows us an extraordinary, often baffling country in all its human complexity.” — Tony Wood, author of Chechnya: The Case for Independence

“Black Square is a remarkable historical memoir: humane, shocking and full of brilliant insight. Sophie Pinkham never succumbs to easy judgement. Her book is essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the tragic and dangerous confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.” — Rachel Polonsky

“[Pinkham] is a unique and fascinating guide to the post-Soviet generation…honest, clear, and deeply humane.” — Catherine Merridale, Financial Times

“Essential reading for anyone who cares about Ukraine, anyone who’s wondering if they should care about Ukraine, and anyone who happens to like nonfiction narratives told in a human voice.” — Natalia Antonova, openDemocracy

“Pinkham is the one to read. She is intimate, sincere, and unpretentious—the perfect cultural commentator.” — William T. Vollmann, Bookforum
Sophie Pinkham’s writing on Russia and Ukraine has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, n+1, the London Review of Books, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. She lives in New York.
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