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New Launches

Nostrovia

10.21.07 | 1 Comment

One might think that a nation of a billion people is a large enough newsbeat to fill an interesting glossy—but that supposition remains speculative at best on the pages of China Today, a government-sponsored book with a business focus. Because of CT and other international regionals—most of which have agendas peripheral to surprising, entertaining and informing their readers—I haven’t paid much attention to the genera—oh, except for Giant Robot, a usually-delightful monthly on Japanese popular culture.

But I was both charmed and surprised by Russia!—a new quarterly on the country formerly known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Reading the second Russia! is like catching up with an almost-forgotten but much-beloved uncle—and make no mistake Russian culture and politics—from the cold-war to Ivan the Terrible (a ghastly short-lived sit-com featuring a Russian Archy Bunker navigating corruption and realpolitik in Soviet-era Moscow)—was often visiting in the ’70s—until we dropped it like a hot potato at the end of the cold war. More fool us. Russia! is a chance to catch up—and with a reemerging awareness of the importance of Russian relations, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

There’s a bit of pandering to expectations in the first issue—a blueprint for an enormous juice glass—beloved, according to the accompanying article because it held exactly 1/3 of a bottle of vodka—the perfect size for a small drinking party! There’s a recipe for borscht, folk-tale-inspired heroic portraits of Putin by kiddies, which could easily have dated from 60 years earlier—if only they had featured Stalin instead. There’s also a nod to the Russian mob and corruption in the form of the front-of-the-book piece on pirated software.

But even these predictable topics are cleverly handled, and Russia! features lots of thrills too—a fascinating piece on the fate of the once-famous Russian Riviera, a bit on an American journalist dealing with promiscuity in Moscow, and intimate portraits of cultural life in less well-known urban centers than Moscow and St. Petersburg. The graphics and art are a delight. Many of the best designed new magazines I’ve looked at lately have kept a fairly simple and clean grid, but used headline type in surprising ways. Russia! follows this trend, with a flag and display type that look as if they were put together from a mismatched box of Grotesque type—another tip, I suppose to Soviet-era scarcity. But, more than this, the magazine is full of visual surprises—from the spooky posterized packaging for a fiction piece to Good-inflected minimal info graphics and richly-varied imagery. Russia! invites the reader to explore pages, finding unexpected facts and ideas—and a fair amount of Russian vocabulary on every page.

Americans read a lot of magazines that are really about somewhere they are not from and rarely visit (New York for one and Los Angeles for another) In is first issue, Russia! turns Russia into an environment as vivid as either of those two cities, and it works, thanks to good reporting, design, and our two country’s intertwined histories. I’ll be looking for the next issue.

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